cover image Kafka


Pietro Citati, Pietro Citate. Alfred A. Knopf, $22.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-394-56840-9

Much given to figurative and aphoristic language, which sometimes turns purple in critical rhapsody, Italian biographer Citati ( Goethe ) examines Kafka's diary and letters in a revisionist attempt to discover the human origins of that writer's fictions, arguing that Kafka envisioned an authoritarian ``god of literature'' who forced him to ``transform his life, his mind and his body into a `precisely articulated' instrument to secrete literature as the great writers whom he admired had done.'' Kafka's inner torments, variously attributed by other biographers to the dreaded influence of his father, the God of the Old Testament or the dreary bureaucratic ossification of Europe as he knew it, are here pronounced ``literary'' in origin, without diminishing the scope of the work ( Amerika , The Trial , The Castle and others are thoroughly glossed). Citati takes a fresh and welcome approach, but one that is intentionally selective and finally incomplete, restricted to the period of Kafka's mature writings (roughly from 1913 to his death in 1924) and declining to treat in depth his early life or the formative political events of his times. (Jan.)