KAFKA'S LAST TRIAL
by Benjamin Balint
W. W. Norton & Company
2018, 288 pp, $26.95
"One summer morning in Jerusalem, Eva Hoffe, eighty-two, sat with her hands clasped on a polished curved wood bench in an alcove of the Israeli Supreme Court's high-ceilinged lobby. To pass the time before her hearing, a friend who had come to lend support leafed through a copy of the daily newspaper Maariv. On the whole, Eva avoided the press; she resented the farrago of lies generated by journalists bent on portraying her as an eccentric cat-lady, an opportunist looking to make a fast buck on cultural treasures too important to remain in private hands."
These dramatic lines open Kafka's Last Trial, Benjamin Balint's account of one of the most fascinating debates over Jewish literature's definition and boundaries: the 2016 legal battle over Franz Kafka's literary legacy and the final resting place of his surviving papers. Few literary figures have stirred readers' imaginations as much as Kafka, his tormented life and early death. Indeed, he is viewed as a mythical figure as much as a renowned author. But above all, the bizarre story of how Kafka's work survived and entered the canon has become a staple of literary legend. Kafka's Last Trial focuses on the lively debate over Kafka's papers, while also shedding light on his intriguing personality--and his equally intriguing relationship with the author Max Brod, whose name is now irreversibly intertwined with Kafka's legacy.
The story of Kafka's life, death and literary resurrection is widely known, even among those who have never read a single line of his work. Born in 1883, Kafka grew up in a middle-class Jewish family in Prague. After studying law, he began his working life at an insurance company, leaving him little time to write. The young Kafka found his new position oppressive, later writing that it robbed him of his soul. The conflict between his poetic core and the bureaucratic alienation of middle-class conventions is one of the main motifs in Kafka's work, and often considered his signature theme.
Kafka's personal life was equally tormented. Ill at ease with himself and his relationships, he was engaged to several women, but never married. His relationship with his father was perhaps his formative conflict, and the famous letters between the two betray Kafka's overwhelming sense of self-doubt and self-loathing. Kafka's writing career was also
far from thriving. Although a few of his works were...