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Kafka: The Early Years


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Table of Contents

Translator's Preface ix 1 Nothing Happening in Prague 1 2 The Curtain Rises 7 3 Giants: The Kafkas from Wosek 26 4 Julie Lowy 38 5 Losing Propositions 46 6 Thoughts about Freud 58 7 Kafka, Franz: Model Student 77 8 A City Energized 90 9 Elli, Valli, Ottla 113 10 Latin, Bohemian, Mathematics, and Other Matters of the Heart 122 11 Jewish Lessons 150 12 Innocence and Impudence 171 13 The Path to Freedom 184 14 To Hell with German Studies 204 15 Friend Max 222 16 Enticements 236 17 Informed Circles: Utitz, Weltsch, Fanta, Bergmann 248 18 Autonomy and Recovery 268 19 The Interior Landscape: "Description of a Struggle" 284 2 Doctor of Law Seeking Employment 302 21 Off to the Prostitutes 325 22 Cafes, Geishas, Art, and Cinema 335 23 The Formidable Assistant Offi ial 350 24 The Secret Writing School 370 25 Landing in Brescia 391 26 In the Heart of the West 407 27 Ideas and Spirits: Buber, Steiner, Einstein 420 28 Literature and Tourism 437 Acknowledgments 463 Key to Abbreviations 465 Notes 467 Bibliography 531 Photo Credits 549 Index 551

About the Author

Reiner Stach worked extensively on the definitive edition of Kafka's collected works before embarking on his three-volume biography of the writer. The other volumes are Kafka: The Decisive Years and Kafka: The Years of Insight (both Princeton). Shelley Frisch's translations of those volumes were awarded the Modern Language Association's Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize and the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize. Her many other translations from the German include Karin Wieland's Dietrich & Riefenstahl, a finalist for the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award.


"Stach often does quietly brilliant work connecting known details of Kafka's youth to the older Kafka, so the reader can see how events appear (or don't) in the specific subjectivity of Kafka's recollection."--Rivka Galchen, London Review of Books "Stach's book crowns a definitive biographical trilogy 18 years in the making... Kafka: The Early Years, along with its two siblings--all three volumes impeccably translated from the German by Shelley Frisch--often feels like biography plotted as a novel. Stach's relish for detail is marshaled to the sensibility--if not the omniscience or imaginative license--of the novelist... [T]he heft of Stach's research is balanced by interpretive tact and a discerning eye."--Benjamin Balint, Wall Street Journal Praise for the previous volumes: "This is one of the great literary biographies, to be set up there with, or perhaps placed on an even higher shelf than, Richard Ellmann's James Joyce, George Painter's Marcel Proust, and Leon Edel's Henry James... [A]n eerily immediate portrait of one of literature's most enduring and enigmatic masters."--John Banville, New York Review of Books Praise for the previous volumes: "Resplendent."--Gary Giddins, Wall Street Journal Praise for Reiner Stach's biography of Kafka, winner of the 2015 Bavarian Book Prize: "One discovers a new, a different Dr. Franz Kafka of Prague in Reiner Stach's monumental, three-volume biography, which concludes triumphantly with Kafka: The Early Years: Kafka--a techie, a lady-killer, friend, the inventor of 3-D movies, and the prospective author of a series of low-priced travel guides for Europe. Reiner Stach proves that biography can be a literary art form and gives definitive shape to our contemporary image of Kafka."--Bavarian Book Prize jury statement Praise for the previous volumes: "[This] will surely be the definitive biography of one of the 20th century's most mysterious artists. Stach's declared aim is to find out what it felt like to be Kafka, and he succeeds."--John Banville, Irish Times Praise for the previous volumes: "The very best of which the genre is capable. This book is itself a novel."--Imre Kertesz, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature Praise for the previous volumes: "Superbly tempered... Shelley Frisch, Stach's heroic American translator, movingly reproduces his intended breadth and pace and tone."--Cynthia Ozick, New Republic Praise for the previous volumes: "A definitive biography of a rare writer... [M]asterful."--The Economist Praise for the previous volumes: "Stach aims to tell us all that can be known about [Kafka], avoiding the fancies and extrapolations of earlier biographers. The result is an enthralling synthesis, one that reads beautifully... I can't say enough about the liveliness and richness of Stach's book... Every page of this book feels excited, dynamic, utterly alive."--Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World Praise for the previous volumes: "Stach's is a splendid effort and will be hard to surpass."--William H. Gass, Harper's Magazine Praise for the previous volumes: "[Stach] 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 Praise for the previous volumes: "Stach's book succeeds brilliantly at clearing a path through the thick metaphysical fog that has hung about Kafka's work almost since his death... [I]lluminating... Between them, [Frisch] and Stach have produced a superbly fresh imaginative guide to the strange, clear, metaphor-free world of Kafka's prose."--Tim Martin, Telegraph Praise for the previous volumes: "Magnificent."--John Carey, Sunday Times Praise for the previous volumes: "Flawlessly translated... [A] wonderfully intelligent and perceptive portrait of a uniquely powerful writer."--P. D. Smith, Guardian "Magisterial... [Reiner Stach's] portrait of the artist is intimately knowing... [Kafka: The Early Years] completes an indispensable work about a key figure in 20th-century modernism."--Kirkus Reviews "Kafka's eerie short stories and novels have electrified readers for generations, but Stach's portrait of the young Kafka contradicts the legend of their source in an alienated, detached enigma. Readers meet instead a likable, brilliant young insurance lawyer with, as Stach puts it, abundant perfectionism and self-doubt... [A]ll Kafka devotees will find this biography's insights deeply fulfilling."--Publishers Weekly "What Mr. Stach uncovers in this volume--written last because of a long struggle over access to documents--are the formative experiences of a Kafka who becomes new and surprisingly relevant... Even those immersed in the specialist work benefit from the illumination that Mr. Stach's detailed digging brings... In today's age of backlash against globalisation, the arc that Mr. Stach draws between 'The Early Years' and Kafka's later life takes on a new significance."--The Economist "Reiner Stach presents exhaustive details about the young author's life, which, rather than demystifying Kafka, actually have the effect of augmenting his complexity."--Mene Ukueberuwa, New Criterion "Reiner Stach's monumental three-volume Kafka ... looks set to be the definitive biography for the foreseeable future. Here we have something new: a credible and sympathetic human Kafka... The narrative sections of the book are masterly: Stach has a novelist's feel for atmosphere and psychology. He fixes important characters (not just Kafka, but his parents and his teachers, Brod, and several others) to the page in a few deft strokes. And he is truly excellent on Kafka's work, which is the most important thing of all. The central question of any serious literary biography should be: how did this person come to write these books? Stach answers it more fully and persuasively than any previous biographer of Kafka, by revealing in meticulous detail his feelings of personal insignificance and his dread of authority."--Edmund Gordon, Sunday Times "The best thing a biographer of Franz Kafka can do is bring the famed author back to earth. Not as regards his reputation, which is justifiably lofty. But to humanize Kafka and save him from our collective idea of him as some otherworldly creature who spent a mere 40 years on this earth, suffering much and publishing little. Reiner Stach accomplishes just this with the third and final volume of his magnificent biography... [He] strips away the myths and tells the story of how Kafka helped drag literature into the modern era."--John Winters, WBUR's ARTery blog "Stach's account of Kafka becoming Kafka is dotted with unlikely epigraphs (Laurie Anderson, Devo, the Human League) and written with pace and dry wit... Stach is an alert reader of the work, continuously on the prowl for aspects of Kafka's life that may shed light on his preoccupations... Stach's book succeeds because it concentrates less on reducing Kafka to psycho-biographical truisms than on ushering us into his company."--Tim Martin, Prospect "Belongs in the company of the masterpieces of literary biography... [C]omprehensive but raised above mere competency through astonishing architectural beauty. Thanks to the superb work of Stach's translator, Shelley Frisch, the trilogy also stands out in English at the sentence level, for the unbroken clarity, verbal ingenuity, and unflagging momentum of its prose."--Open Letters Monthly "One of the most engaging and persuasive features of [Kafka: The Early Years] ... is the way in which Stach goes far beyond the all-too-familiar neurotic, angst-ridden [Kafka] by presenting us with a variety of lesser-known 'Kafkas.'"--Mark Harman, Los Angeles Review of Books "Superbly translated from German by Shelley Frisch... Illuminating facts and intelligent commentary... The three volumes are so carefully composed and densely woven--blending history, literary analysis, psychological insights, quotes and commentary from others--that it would be practically impossible to produce an abridged version in a single volume."--Alexander Adams, Spiked Review "Stach's whole project is a wonder to behold."--Gregory Day, Sydney Morning Herald "If you are a Kafka fan (or just a fan of great literary biographies), the translation of Reiner Stach's enormous, three-part biography is something not to miss. Now that it has been translated into English by Shelley Frisch, the book offered English-language readers unparalleled insight into Kafka's life, his world, his colleagues, his lovers, his family, and of course his writing. As a longtime Kafka devotee, I found this biography exceptional, not just a great book about Kafka but simply a great book to read."--Scott Esposito, Conversational Reading "[Stach's] mastery of complex material, scrupulous examination of evidence, illuminating portrayal of the historical and intellectual background ranks with Joseph Frank's superb five-volume life of Dostoyevsky."--Jeffrey Meyers, Commonweal "We can trace, through Stach's measured narrative, the full course of Kafka's brief life... The result is not merely a biography of painstaking thoroughness but a piece of psychological investigation and literary detective work without clear parallel. It gives its readers a new Kafka. It explains much that has long seemed obscure; yet, by paradox, the more its author-hero is grounded in his context, and the more we grasp of the initial sources of his imagination, the more unfathomable his gifts become. The haze clears; he stands alone."--Nicolas Rothwell, Australian

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