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The Early Years
Reiner Stach
Translated by Shelley Frisch

Longlisted for the 2017 National Translation Award, American Literary Translators Association

Paperback | 2017 | $24.95 | £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691178189
584 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 32 b/w illus.
Hardcover | 2016 | $35.00 | £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691151984
584 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 64 halftones.
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400884476 |
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Kafka: The Decisive Years
Kafka: The Years of Insight

Kafka: The Three Volume Biography

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family and his education, psychological development, and sexual maturation draws on numerous sources, some still unpublished, including family letters, schoolmates’ memoirs, and early diaries of his close friend Max Brod.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.


"[An] immensely rewarding journey. This volume completes one of the great literary biographies of our time--indeed, any time. . . . So delightful, so magical, are the closing couple of pages that one longs to paraphrase them, but that would be to spoil the perfect balance the biographer achieves between comedy, wistfulness, and faint absurdity, qualities that are as much a mark of Kafka’s writing as its darkness and its terror. There could not have been a better close to this marvelous account of the life of a supremely great artist."--John Banville, New York Review of Books

"Stach often does quietly brilliant work connecting known details of Kafka’s youth to the older Kafka, so the reader can see how events appear (or don’t) in the specific subjectivity of Kafka’s recollection."--Rivka Galchen, London Review of Books

"Stach's book crowns a definitive biographical trilogy 18 years in the making. . . . Kafka: The Early Years, along with its two siblings--all three volumes impeccably translated from the German by Shelley Frisch--often feels like biography plotted as a novel. Stach's relish for detail is marshaled to the sensibility--if not the omniscience or imaginative license--of the novelist. . . . [T]he heft of Stach's research is balanced by interpretive tact and a discerning eye."--Benjamin Balint, Wall Street Journal

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

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