cover image The Lost Writings

The Lost Writings

Franz Kafka, selected by Reiner Stach and trans. from the German by Michael Hofmann. New Directions, $16.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2801-5

This delightful collection features dozens of untitled fragments, false starts, and unfinished work by Kafka, found and chosen by biographer Stach. In mostly untitled pieces, ranging from a few lines to a couple of pages, readers will find aphorisms (“to a real angler no fish is ever really lost”), meditations on the myth of Prometheus and the eighth wonder of the world, fables about a loaf of bread that can’t be cut, a description of a shop without a front door, a mysterious chess game, an egg containing a misbegotten bird, and short works that anticipate some of Kafka’s masterpieces, including The Metamorphosis. Also on view are the kind of bureaucratic fever dreams associated with Kafka, along with mordant statements on mortality (“You are forever speaking of death, and not dying”). Opening sentences such as “I was allowed to set foot in a strange garden” and “The city resembles the sun,” make the reader’s pulse heighten with the thrill of entering the space of great literature. This offers precisely the kind of fare Kafka enthusiasts would hope for from the legendary writer’s archives. (Sept.)