Winner of the 2020 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature
The story of the international struggle to preserve Kafka’s literary legacy.
Kafka’s Last Trial begins with Kafka’s last instruction to his closest friend, Max Brod: to destroy all his remaining papers upon his death. But when the moment arrived in 1924, Brod could not bring himself to burn the unpublished works of the man he considered a literary geniuseven a saint. Instead, Brod devoted his life to championing Kafka’s writing, rescuing his legacy from obscurity and physical destruction.
The story of Kafka’s posthumous life is itself Kafkaesque. By the time of Brod’s own death in Tel Aviv in 1968, Kafka’s major works had been published, transforming the once little-known writer into a pillar of literary modernism. Yet Brod left a wealth of still-unpublished papers to his secretary, who sold some, held on to the rest, and then passed the bulk of them on to her daughters, who in turn refused to release them. An international legal battle erupted to determine which country could claim ownership of Kafka’s work: Israel, where Kafka dreamed of living but never entered, or Germany, where Kafka’s three sisters perished in the Holocaust?
Benjamin Balint offers a gripping account of the controversial trial in Israeli courtsbrimming with dilemmas legal, ethical, and politicalthat determined the fate of Kafka’s manuscripts. Deeply informed, with sharply drawn portraits and a remarkable ability to evoke a time and place, Kafka’s Last Trial is at once a brilliant biographical portrait of a literary genius, and the story of two countries whose national obsessions with overcoming the traumas of the past came to a head in a hotly contested trial for the right to claim the literary legacy of one of our modern masters.
Benjamin Balint is a research fellow at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem. The author of Running Commentary and coauthor of Jerusalem: City of the Book, he writes for The Wall Street Journal, Die Zeit, and the Claremont Review of Books, and his translations from the Hebrew have appeared in The New Yorker.
Table of Contents
1 The Last Appeal 3
2 "Fanatical Veneration": The First to Fall under Kafka's Spell 16
3 The First Trial 32
4 Flirting with the Promised Land 49
5 First and Second Judgments 70
6 Last Son of the Diaspora: Kafka's Jewish Afterlife 85
7 The Last Ingathering: Kafka in Israel 101
8 Kafka's Last Wish, Brod's First Betrayal 121
9 Kafka's Creator 132
10 The Last Train: From Prague to Palestine 142
11 The Last Tightrope Dancer: Kafka in Germany 155
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