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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

K: A Biography of Kafka

When I finished “The Last Thing He Wanted” I was still unable to identify who was “talking” in the story. Most the chapters opened with a first-person perspective (I assumed it was the protagonist) which in turn quickly switched to third-person descriptive. I think I took too long to finish it, and while I have been done with it for a few days now, I didn’t want to post anything else about it.

Ronald Hayman’s “K: A Biography of Kafka,” is an insightful biography written from the perspective of Kafka’s own diaries. Hayman’s quotes and passages from the diaries are very functionally placed and the pages flow one to the other like an endless—what else could we call it—dream. There is a large amount of description about Kafka’s writing discipline and lack thereof. At one point in the narrative Hayman calculates that Kafka “had done no writing for over two years.” The middle of the biography covers, in great detail, Kafka’s relationship with Felice and the abortive efforts at engagement and subsequent marriage. Here is a Kafka trapped in a world made partly of his own doing, unable to escape but not know what to do if he does indeed escape. Indecision is the common denominator throughout the narrative. There are some good comparisons between Kafka’s father, Kafka’s dreams and how he was able to transfer all of it into his fiction. Between travels and emotional and personal distresses, Kafka is able to summon all of his might and write. Incredibly, he is more drawn to the desk than he is to real life. This is partly due to the fact he wasn’t an easily adaptable person; socially he was limited by his lack of eloquence, and in private he lacked the spiritual force to look at himself even-handedly. He could only find succor in the “consolation to be had from writing masterfully controlled sentences about uncontrollable situations.” This is one of the nicest biographies I have ever read if simply because one page has melted into the next and I have been able to read at long intervals (I read for a couple of hours last evening in the balcony).

Where Hayman fails, really, is his lack of depth when it comes to writing about “Der Verwandlung” (The Metamorphosis). There are a few snippets of information that drip from in between accounts about his lack of health, concentration, and his problematic relationship with Felice. I don’t find any other fault with this biography; it is well written and clearly organized. I am presently on page 220, with only 80 more to go.

I wrote eight pages last Friday and felt quite content with the progress… more on this later.

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1 Comments:

At 12:11 PM, Blogger Kate S. said...

I've been eyeing up that Kafka biography for many weeks in one of my local bookstores. After reading your account, I think I'll pick it up the next time I stop in! I appreciate a literary biography that puts a lot of emphasis on the subject's writing process and it sounds like this one fits the bill.

 

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