Kafka CL

Frederick Karl, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $40 (810p) ISBN 978-0-395-56143-0
In this discerning biography, New York University English professor Karl convincingly argues that Kafka's (1883-1924) life cannot be grasped by following a path of events, stressing that the writer who ``communicated the century to us'' was simply too reticent to be revealed by a series of incidents. So Karl approaches Kafka's development by other lights, not only those cast by his fictions, diaries and letters, but also by taking a fresh look at the social history of the late Austro-Hungarian empire and Prague, its ``third city''--particularly the phenomenon of ``secessionism,'' the flight of artists, cults and ethnic groups of the period from the mainstream. The book's lengthy text deepens the enigma of Kafka's art. Karl cannot uncover the ultimate sources that summoned this tentatively assimilated son of a Jewish merchant to his literary calling, but skillfully details the routes Kafka took to write. We're shown that anxiety and emotions so burdened Kafka that a diagnosis of terminal tuberculosis in 1917 provides genuine spiritual uplift. Though the sentence of death--still seven years from its term--informed his writing, it did not fundamentally change the direction of his work. This critical biography is a fair bid for the single most comprehensive examination of the author in English. Photos not seen by PW. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/04/1991
Release date: 11/01/1991
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