Kafka: The Years of Insight

Overview

This volume of Reiner Stach's acclaimed and definitive biography of Franz Kafka tells the story of the final years of the writer's life, from 1916 to 1924--a period during which the world Kafka had known came to an end. Stach's riveting narrative, which reflects the latest findings about Kafka's life and works, draws readers in with a nearly cinematic power, zooming in for extreme close-ups of Kafka's personal life, then pulling back for panoramic shots of a wider world scarred ...

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Overview

This volume of Reiner Stach's acclaimed and definitive biography of Franz Kafka tells the story of the final years of the writer's life, from 1916 to 1924--a period during which the world Kafka had known came to an end. Stach's riveting narrative, which reflects the latest findings about Kafka's life and works, draws readers in with a nearly cinematic power, zooming in for extreme close-ups of Kafka's personal life, then pulling back for panoramic shots of a wider world scarred by World War I, disease, and inflation.

In these years, Kafka was spared military service at the front, yet his work as a civil servant brought him into chilling proximity with its grim realities. He was witness to unspeakable misery, lost the financial security he had been counting on to lead the life of a writer, and remained captive for years in his hometown of Prague. The outbreak of tuberculosis and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire constituted a double shock for Kafka, and made him agonizingly aware of his increasing rootlessness. He began to pose broader existential questions, and his writing grew terser and more reflective, from the parable-like Country Doctor stories and A Hunger Artist to The Castle.

A door seemed to open in the form of a passionate relationship with the Czech journalist Milena Jesenská. But the romance was unfulfilled and Kafka, an incurably ill German Jew with a Czech passport, continued to suffer. However, his predicament only sharpened his perceptiveness, and the final period of his life became the years of insight.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This well-researched new biography details the last nine years of Franz Kafka’s life and explores the personal, social, and political events that shaped his writing. In 1915 (the year “The Metamorphosis” was published), the 32-year-old Kafka was afflicted with headaches, insomnia, and loss of appetite, trapped in his grinding job at the Worker’s Accident Insurance Institute in Prague, and perpetually warring with his tyrannical father. Kafka’s suffering and perfectionism strained his relationship with his fiancé, Felice Bauer, and took its toll on his writing. After threatening to enlist to fight in WWI, Kafka was given time off by his employers in the summer of 1916, and a brief vacation in Marienbad seemed to turn him around. The following year, though, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and the year after with the Spanish flu—both of which hastened his death in 1924. Quoting liberally from Kafka’s letters and notebooks, Stach (Kafka: The Decisive Years) presents Kafka in conflict: someone who shared a near marital relationship with his devoted younger sister, Ottla, but who couldn’t commit to the eligible women in his life; a man interested in studying Hebrew but wary of Zionism; an artist whose fortunes were tied to the city, yet who found his greatest peace growing vegetables in the country. Despite the narrow time frame, this insightful book is likely to become a standard by which future biographies are measured. (July)
Booklist - Bryce Christensen
With impressive insight into imaginative artistry, Stach illuminates the way Kafka responds to personal trauma and global firestorm, sometimes incorporating his negative circumstances into his fiction, but sometimes transcending those circumstances in metaphysical creations informed by a profoundly personal myth. This literary-biographical analysis will help scholars penetrate major Kafka works, including The Castle and The Trial, The Hunger Artist and The Burrow. Thanks to a lucid translation, English-speaking readers can now share the German enthusiasm for this masterful portrait.
Forward.com - David Mikics
[T]he definitive biography of Kafka. . . . [A] supple and accurate English translation by Shelley Frisch. . . . Stach presents a full, nuanced treatment of Kafka's feelings about Jewishness. He is particularly adept in his depiction of Kafka's relationships with the women he loved.
From the Publisher

Praise for Kafka: The Years of Insight: "Reiner Stach has recounted Kafka's life more vividly than any other biographer. The reader moves through his Kafka biography, which reads like a novel, in breathless anticipation. . . . No one has written about Kafka as suggestively and insightfully, and in such a beautiful and clear language, as Reiner Stach."--Ulrich Greiner, Die Zeit

"[E]xtensive . . . impeccably translated. . . . Each volume is crafted such that one simply must read the other two: Stach peppers his writing with tantalizingly vague references and foreshadowings to elsewhere in the series, and his allusions compel the reader to absorb Kafka's complete biography from start to finish. . . . The author's meticulous chronicle of Kafka's life by no means precludes examination of the literary legacy that it produced; rather, it sharpens our understanding of some of Kafka's most obscure and abstract works. . . . An utterly thorough biography, the three-volume set will prove a treasure to any admirer of Franz Kafka--or good research."--Nat Bernstein, Jewish Book Council

"Stach reads the work and the life with minute care and sympathy. He has a deep understanding of the world that Kafka came from and this is matched by an intelligence and tact about the impulse behind the work itself."--Colm Toibin, Irish Independent

"Kafka: The Years of Insight . . . wonderfully translated . . . is Volume III of what will surely be the definitive biography. Kafka is brought to vivid life by an author at once scholarly and entertaining."--John Banville, New Statesman

"Stach's declared aim is to find out what it felt like to be Kafka, and he succeeds."--John Banville, Irish Times

"Countering the prevailing notion that Kafka was out of touch with reality, Stach details how this quixotic modernist was actually well informed about the crisis and how this knowledge altered the course of his writing. In addition to being a skillful biographer, Stach is an authority on Kafka, having worked for more than a decade on the definitive critical edition of Kafka's writings. . . . [T]his biography is an extraordinary accomplishment."--Choice

"Stach's riveting narrative, which reflects the latest findings about Kafka's life and works, draws readers in with a nearly cinematic power, zooming in for extreme close-ups of Kafka's personal life, then pulling back for panoramic shots of a wider world."--World Book Industry

Der Tagesspiegel
Praise for Kafka: The Years of Insight: "It would be impossible to describe the work and essence of this key artist of the twentieth century in a livelier and more vibrant style. . . . A masterpiece of the art of interpretation and of empathy.
Die Zeit - Ulrich Greiner
Praise for Kafka: The Years of Insight: "Reiner Stach has recounted Kafka's life more vividly than any other biographer. The reader moves through his Kafka biography, which reads like a novel, in breathless anticipation. . . . No one has written about Kafka as suggestively and insightfully, and in such a beautiful and clear language, as Reiner Stach.
Library Journal
Restriction to archival research material has predetermined the publishing sequence of Stach's tripartite biography. The first, Kafka: The Decisive Years, covered Franz Kafka's most markedly creative period (1910–15). The volume dealing with Kafka's family history and formative years is forthcoming. Stach's current volume—with marginal overlap—covers the period from 1916 to 1924, his terminal years. Beset by a world war that irreparably shattered lives, landscapes, cities, and ideals, a neurotic and insomniac Kafka was obsessed with finding the time and space to feed his hunger: writing. But the expectations, desires, and burdens of everyday life seemed to conspire against him: his father's disapprobation, his job at the Worker's Accident Insurance Institute, his turbulent courtships with Felice Bauer, Milena Jesenská, and Dora Diamant, and finally his encounter with malignant and fatal tuberculosis. In time, his work overshadowed the details of his life. Braiding letters, diaries, memoirs, and notebooks with concentrated literary and historical commentary, Stach here writes about the life events that informed the art of Kafka's writing. VERDICT This work is a monumental accomplishment with a first-rate translation by scholar Frisch.—Lonnie Weatherby, McGill Univ. Lib., Montreal
Kirkus Reviews
Conclusion of a massive, comprehensive life of the famed Czech/German/Jewish writer, chockablock with neuroses, failures and moments of brilliance. The editor of Kafka's collected works in German, Stach (Kafka: The Decisive Years, 2005, etc.) delivers much that is known about the writer: his sexual insecurities; his fraught, near-paralyzing relationship with his father; the terrible fate of his beloved sisters in the Holocaust. We knew from Max Brod, to say nothing of Kafka's own correspondence, that he could be clinically cold, and clinically odd, as when he wrote to his one-time intended Felice Bauer, "Your last letter said that a picture was enclosed. It was not enclosed. This represents a hardship for me." Yet there are surprises as well: Who knew, for instance, that Kafka, though gravely ill, was still athletic enough to row a passenger across a swiftly flowing river? Kafka was, of course, ever anonymous in doing so: "It would never have occurred to the man that he might have been rowed by a thirty-seven-year-old with a doctorate in law, who served as head of his department and suffered from tuberculosis." Stach also reveals Kafka's efforts to join the Austro-Hungarian army during World War I, thwarted by his employer, and offers a trove of observations on Kafka and the business of writing and publishing, with all the usual complaints about late and underpaid royalties and skewed contracts. Throughout, Stach considers Kafka's flourishing as a writer, precise but deeply emotional, in a time of works such as The Castle and "The Metamorphosis." He also sheds light on Kafka's sometimes-tenuous Zionism, including his concentrated studies of Hebrew and on-and-off plans to relocate to Palestine. An illuminating book built, like its subject's life, on small episodes rather than great, dramatic turning points. Essential for students and serious readers of Kafka.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691147512
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 6/9/2013
  • Pages: 720
  • Sales rank: 796,878
  • Product dimensions: 6.60 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.90 (d)

Meet the Author


Reiner Stach worked extensively on the definitive edition of Kafka's collected works before embarking on this three-volume biography. The second volume, "Kafka: The Decisive Years" (Princeton), is also available. The first volume, covering Kafka's childhood and youth, is forthcoming. Shelley Frisch's translation of the second volume was awarded the Modern Language Association's Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize. She has translated many other books from German, including biographies of Nietzsche and Einstein, and she holds a PhD in German literature from Princeton University.
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Table of Contents


PROLOGUE The Ants of Prague 1
CHAPTER ONE Stepping Outside the Self 8
CHAPTER TWO No Literary Prize for Kafka 31
CHAPTER THREE "Civilian Kavka": The Work of War 46
CHAPTER FOUR The Marvel of Marienbad 83
CHAPTER FIVE What Do I Have in Common with Jews? 105
CHAPTER SIX Kafka Encounters His Readers 129
CHAPTER SEVEN The Alchemist 141
CHAPTER EIGHT Ottla and Felice 157
CHAPTER NINE The Country Doctor Ventures Out 170
CHAPTER TEN Mycobacterium tuberculosis 186
CHAPTER ELEVEN Zürau's Ark 201
CHAPTER TWELVE Meditations 222
CHAPTER THIRTEEN Spanish Influenza, Czech Revolt, Jewish Angst 244
CHAPTER FOURTEEN The Pariah Girl 266
CHAPTER FIFTEEN The Unposted Letter to Hermann Kafka 287
CHAPTER SIXTEEN Merano, Second Class 311
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN Milena 319
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN Living Fires 332
CHAPTER NINETEEN The Big Nevertheless 353
CHAPTER TWENTY Escape to the Mountains 380
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE Fever and Snow: Tatranské Matliary 387
CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO The Internal and the External Clock 404
CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE The Personal Myth: The Castle 423
CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR Retiree and Hunger Artist 451
CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE The Palestinian 475
CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX Dora 497
CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN The Edge of Berlin 512
CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT Last Sorrow 546
EPILOGUE 573
Acknowledgments 577
Translator's Note 579
Key to Abbreviations 581
Notes 583
Bibliography 647
Photo Credits 665
Index 667
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