How did Kafka become Kafka? This eagerly anticipated third and final volume of Reiner Stach’s definitive biography of the writer answers that question with more facts and insight than ever before, describing the complex personal, political, and cultural circumstances that shaped the young Franz Kafka (1883–1924). It tells the story of the years from his birth in Prague to the beginning of his professional and literary career in 1910, taking the reader up to just before the breakthrough that resulted in his first masterpieces, including “The Metamorphosis.” Brimming with vivid and often startling details, Stach’s narrative invites readers deep inside this neglected period of Kafka’s life. The book’s richly atmospheric portrait of his German Jewish merchant family and his education, psychological development, and sexual maturation draws on numerous sources, some still unpublished, including family letters, schoolmates’ memoirs, and early diaries of his close friend Max Brod.
The biography also provides a colorful panorama of Kafka’s wider world, especially the convoluted politics and culture of Prague. Before World War I, Kafka lived in a society at the threshold of modernity but torn by conflict, and Stach provides poignant details of how the adolescent Kafka witnessed violent outbreaks of anti-Semitism and nationalism. The reader also learns how he developed a passionate interest in new technologies, particularly movies and airplanes, and why another interest—his predilection for the back-to-nature movement—stemmed from his “nervous” surroundings rather than personal eccentricity.
The crowning volume to a masterly biography, this is an unmatched account of how a boy who grew up in an old Central European monarchy became a writer who helped create modern literature.
Reiner Stach worked extensively on the definitive edition of Kafka's collected works before embarking on his three-volume biography of the writer. The other volumes are Kafka: The Decisive Years and Kafka: The Years of Insight (both Princeton). Shelley Frisch's translations of those volumes were awarded the Modern Language Association's Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize and the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize. Her many other translations from the German include Karin Wieland's Dietrich & Riefenstahl, a finalist for the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award.
Praise for the previous volumes: "This is one of the great literary biographies, to be set up there with, or perhaps placed on an even higher shelf than, Richard Ellmann’s James Joyce, George Painter’s Marcel Proust, and Leon Edel’s Henry James. . . . [A]n eerily immediate portrait of one of literature’s most enduring and enigmatic masters."--John Banville, New York Review of Books
Praise for the previous volumes: "Resplendent."--Gary Giddins, Wall Street Journal
"Stach’s book crowns a definitive biographical trilogy 18 years in the making. . . . [I]mpeccably translated from the German by Shelley Frisch."--Benjamin Balint, Wall Street Journal
Praise for Reiner Stach's biography of Kafka, winner of the 2015 Bavarian Book Prize: "One discovers a new, a different Dr. Franz Kafka of Prague in Reiner Stach’s monumental, three-volume biography, which concludes triumphantly with Kafka: The Early Years: Kafka--a techie, a lady-killer, friend, the inventor of 3-D movies, and the prospective author of a series of low-priced travel guides for Europe. Reiner Stach proves that biography can be a literary art form and gives definitive shape to our contemporary image of Kafka."--Bavarian Book Prize jury statement
Praise for the previous volumes: "[This] will surely be the definitive biography of one of the 20th century’s most mysterious artists. Stach’s declared aim is to find out what it felt like to be Kafka, and he succeeds."--John Banville, Irish Times
Praise for the previous volumes: "The very best of which the genre is capable. This book is itself a novel."--Imre Kertész, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature
Praise for the previous volumes: "Superbly tempered. . . . Shelley Frisch, Stach’s heroic American translator, movingly reproduces his intended breadth and pace and tone."--Cynthia Ozick, New Republic
Table of Contents
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Reiner Stach: