Introducing Reiner Stach’s acclaimed and definitive biography of Franz Kafka from Princeton University Press. Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was an influential writer of the 20th century and Reiner Stach spent more than a decade working with over four thousand pages of journals, letters, and literary fragments, many never before available, to re-create the atmosphere in which Kafka lived and worked. This impressive biography was translated by Shelley Frisch. We invite you to read the sample chapters linked below.
Kafka: The Decisive Years
This period from 1910-1915, which would prove crucial to Kafka’s writing and set the course for the rest of his life, saw him working with astonishing intensity on his most seminal writings–The Trial, The Metamorphosis, The Man Who Disappeared (Amerika), and The Judgment. These are also the years of Kafka’s fascination with Zionism; of his tumultuous engagement to Felice Bauer; and of the outbreak of World War I. It is at once an extraordinary portrait of the writer and a startlingly original contribution to the art of literary biography.
We invite you to read the Introduction online:
Kafka: The Years of Insight
This volume tells the story of the final years of the writer’s life, from 1916 to 1924–a period during which the world Kafka had known came to an end. Stach’s riveting narrative, which reflects the latest findings about Kafka’s life and works, draws readers in with a nearly cinematic power, zooming in for extreme close-ups of Kafka’s personal life, then pulling back for panoramic shots of a wider world scarred by World War I, disease, and inflation.
In these years, Kafka was spared military service at the front, yet his work as a civil servant brought him into chilling proximity with its grim realities. He was witness to unspeakable misery, lost the financial security he had been counting on to lead the life of a writer, and remained captive for years in his hometown of Prague. The outbreak of tuberculosis and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire constituted a double shock for Kafka, and made him agonizingly aware of his increasing rootlessness. He began to pose broader existential questions, and his writing grew terser and more reflective, from the parable-like Country Doctor stories and A Hunger Artist to The Castle.
A door seemed to open in the form of a passionate relationship with the Czech journalist Milena Jesenská. But the romance was unfulfilled and Kafka, an incurably ill German Jew with a Czech passport, continued to suffer. However, his predicament only sharpened his perceptiveness, and the final period of his life became the years of insight.
We invite you to read the Prologue online:
The first volume, covering Kafka’s childhood and youth, is forthcoming.