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KAFKA’S LAST TRIAL
By: BALINT, Benjamin
Nonfiction, Forthcoming 2018
An unprecedented international custody battle wends its way through Israeli courts. At stake: a priceless cache of Franz Kafka’s papers. The manuscripts, kept hidden for decades, promise to shed new light on the most enigmatic writer of the twentieth century. Expertly drawing on extensive interviews, archives, and court documents never before published, this book traces the unlikely trajectory of a trove of manuscripts from Prague to Palestine.
The story of how this treasure trove ended up in the hands of a woman who never met Kafka begins a century earlier with the remarkable friendship between Franz Kafka and his impresario Max Brod. When Kafka died in 1924, a month short of his forty-first birthday, Brod could not bring himself to fulfill Kafka’s last instruction: to burn his remaining manuscripts, diaries and letters. Instead, Brod carried them with him when he escaped the Nazis in 1939, and he devoted the rest of his life to canonizing Kafka as the most prescient—and most disquieting—writer of the twentieth century. Safe in Tel Aviv but grieving for a lost world, Brod fell in love with the secretary he employed to put Kafka’s unfinished manuscripts in order, an émigré from Prague named Esther Hoffe. Before Brod died in 1968, it was to Esther that he bequeathed the papers. Whether she was an outright beneficiary or a trustee is a central issue in dispute. After Brod’s death, Hoffe commenced to sell off Kafka’s legacy piecemeal, thus sparking the fascinating litigation that is the centerpiece of this book.
A scholar and writer of considerable intellect and narrative abilities, Balint explores the legal-ethical claims made by the three parties battling for possession of the Kafka archive: the Hoffe family, the National Library of Israel, and the German Literature Archive in Marbach.
Balint brilliantly examines the provocative question of who can legitimately claim to own Kafka, and why: Does Kafka’s writing belong to German literature, or to the state that regards itself as the representative of Jews everywhere? Or does his body of work remain beyond any national canon, “obedient to its own laws of motion,” to use his phrase?
This is a story of a then-unrecognized genius betrayed by his most trusted friend, of a wrenching escape from Nazi invaders as the gates of Europe closed, of a love affair between exiles stranded in Tel Aviv, and of two countries whose linked obsessions with engaging and overcoming the traumas of the past cast them as adversaries in a bitter contest.
Rights Sold to:
Croatia, Tim Press; Germany, Berenberg Verlag; Poland, Agora; Russia, Exmo; UK, Picador; UK, Macmillan Publishers International Ltd; USA, W.W. Norton;