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Kafka: The Decisive Years


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Table of Contents

Introduction 1 PROLOGUE: The Black Star 16 1At Home with the Kafkas 21 2Bachelors, Young and Old 42 3Actors, Zionists, Wild People 54 4Literature and Loneliness: Leipzig and Weimar 71 5Last Stop Jungborn 86 6A Young Lady from Berlin 94 7The Ecstasy of Beginning: "The Judgment" and "The Stoker" 108 8A Near Defenestration 119 9The Girl, the Lady, and the Woman 134 10Love and a Longing for Letters 145 11Exultant Weeks, Little Intrigues 159 12The Bauer Family 169 13America and Back: The Man Who Disappeared 175 14The Lives of Metaphors: "The Metamorphosis" 192 15The Fear of Going Mad 206 16Balkan War: The Massacre Next Door 226 171913 231 18 The Man Who Disappeared: Perfection and Disintegration 242 19Invention and Exaggeration 253 20Sexual Trepidation and Surrender 266 21The Working World: High Tech and the Ghostsof Bureaucracy 281 22The Proposal 297 23Literature, Nothing but Literature 324 24Three Congresses in Vienna 350 25Trieste, Venice, Verona, Riva 368 26Grete Bloch: The Messenger Arrives 379 27An All-Time Low 390 28Kafka and Musil 401 29Matrimonial Plans and Asceticism 413 30Tribunal in Berlin 433 31The Great War 444 32Self-Inflicted Justice: The Trial and "In the Penal Colony" 464 33The Return of the East 484 34The Grand Disruption 493 35No-Man's-Land 508 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 517 TRANSLATOR'S NOTE 519 KEY TO ABBREVIATIONS 521 NOTES 523 BIBLIOGRAPHY 551 PHOTO CREDITS 563 INDEX 565

About the Author

Reiner Stach worked extensively on the definitive edition of Kafka's collected works before embarking on this three-volume biography. The third volume, "Kafka: The Years of Insight" (Princeton), covering Kafka's final years, is also available. The first volume, covering Kafka's childhood and youth, is forthcoming.


"Most impressive is Stach's recounting of the creation of his subject's writings... Stach's own writing is wonderfully expressive."--Publishers Weekly (starred review) "A scrupulous, discriminating, and highly instructive account of Kafka's life."--Robert Alter, New Republic "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 "Stach's is a splendid effort and will be hard to surpass."--William H. Gass, Harper's Magazine "A masterpiece of inspired biographical writing."--Choice "Probing... Essential reading."--Booklist (starred review) "Magnificent."--Die Zeit "Stach develops the various elements that play a role in Kafka's life brilliantly."--Der Spiegel "The first great biography of Franz Kafka ... exciting and instructive from the first to the last page."--Tagesanzeiger "This extraordinary biography fills the empty spaces between Kafka's own writings and the writings of friends, family, and contemporaries with so much empathy and imagination that one can't put it down."--Frankfurter Rundschau "[M]onumental... [A] superb English-language translation by Shelly Frisch ... now reprinted in a handsome paperback by Princeton... In this first volume, Stach sifts through that rubble with huge amounts of energy and discretion (and Frisch follows him without a misstep; it feels like exactly the book I read ten years ago in its original language)... His letters and journals are marshaled with sometimes breathtaking ingenuity, and the sheer scope of the work allows Stach to be expansive when painting his backgrounds... Always in these recountings, Stach is searching for his elusive subject, trying--as all previous biographers have tried, though none so well--to hear Kafka's strange, singular voice in the noise... Kafka: The Decisive Years was greeted with a loud chorus of praise when it first appeared in English, and the passage of almost a decade has cast no doubt on that verdict. Princeton has re-issued this classic so that it can stand next to the following volume, Kafka: The Years of Insight, newly published in hardcover. No one interested in Kafka (or, by almost inevitable extension, 20th century literature) should miss either."--Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Monthly "[F]lawlessly translated... [A] wonderfully intelligent and perceptive portrait of a uniquely powerful writer."--PD Smith, Guardian

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