Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Brod’s diaries in Kafkaesque story

Kafka - author of The Trial and The Castle - is always good for a story, and so much the better if it’s a Kafkaesque one. The Guardian has a full page Kafka news story in its international section today (9 July), but it’s sourced, I’m sure, from a story in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. While The Guardian uses a completely spurious lead, Haaretz pegs its story to the 125th anniversary of Kafka’s birth on 3 July. Of interest to this blog, though, is Brod, Max Brod who is credited with first promoting Kafka’s work. Like Kafka, Brod was also a diarist, but unlike Kafka’s diaries, Brod’s diaries are missing.

Here is the first paragraph of this morning’s Kafka story in The Guardian: ‘Scholars of the 20th-century writer Franz Kafka were in a state of suspense last night at the news that the remains of his estate, which have been hoarded in a Tel Aviv flat for decades, may soon be revealed.’ Unfortunately, there’s nothing in the article to explain the use of the phrase ‘in a state of suspense last night’.

Here is the first paragraph of the more sober story published by Haaretz a day earlier: ‘On a quiet street in the heart of Tel Aviv, not far from Ben-Gurion Boulevard, stands an old apartment building with a well-tended garden in front. The exterior does not reveal the exciting story that has been hidden for decades inside the building, to which the eyes of scholars and lovers of literature are now turned: Many researchers believe that in a ground-floor apartment there can be found the remnants of the estate of the great 20th-century writer Franz Kafka, whose 125th birthday was celebrated on July 3.’

Kafka died in 1924, leaving his estate and papers in the hands of his friend Max Brod, another Jewish writer, who then did much to promote Kafka’s writing. It is well known that Kafka despite being asked by Brod to destroy his unpublished works, did not do so. Brod defended his action by saying he had told Kafka of his intentions not to comply, and that, therefore, if Kafka had truly wanted the works burned, he would have left them to a different executor.

With Hitler’s advances, Brod moved to Israel in 1939, taking Kafka’s papers with him. Many of these were eventually transferred to archives, but Brod kept hold of ‘a great deal of varied material’. Brod died in 1968, leaving his estate, including whatever Kafka papers he still held, to his secretary, Ilse Esther Hoffe. And it is Hoffe who lived in the Tel Aviv flat, ‘the old apartment building with a well-tended garden', but who died last year, aged 101. According to Haaretz, she had sold a few of the Kafka papers, but had jealously held on to rest, refusing to show them to any one.

Haaretz talked to Nurit Pagi, who is currently writing her doctorate on Brod at the University of Haifa. She said: ‘Everyone was trying to get to this material, but came away empty-handed. . . It’s like a Kafkaesque detective puzzle that someone doesn't want solved. All the people who are doing research on Brod are telling each other: If you hear anything, let me know.’ (The Guardian article, incidentally, said Haaretz called the story ‘Kafkaesque’, another slight inaccuracy.)

Among Kafka’s works saved by Brod, and later published, were his diaries. Kafka started writing a diary in 1910, aged 27 (possibly at the suggestion of Brod) and continued until near the end of his life. Wikipedia has information on the diaries, and The Diary Junction provides links to both German and English versions freely available online.

Interestingly, however, Brod was also a keen diarist, and his diaries formed part of the estate left to Hoffe. According to Haaretz, a German publisher, Artemis and Winkler, paid Hoffe a five-figure advance for Brod’s diaries in the 1980s, but never received them. In 1993, the German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that Hoffe had removed the Brod diaries from her apartment and transferred them to a safe at a bank in Tel Aviv, where they remain to this day. Artemis and Winkler is now owned by a large publisher, apparently, who is still negotiating access to the diaries. They are thought to contain intimate details about Brod’s life, and may well provide interesting information on Kafka’s life.

No comments: