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Kafka:
The Years of Insight
Reiner Stach
Translated by Shelley Frisch

Winner of the 2014 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize
Finalist for the 2013 National Jewish Book Award in History, Jewish Book Council
One of The Guardian Best Books of 2013, chosen by Colm Tóibín
Longlisted for the 2014 PEN Translation Award, Pen American Center

Paperback | June 2015 | $24.95 / £16.95 | ISBN: 9780691165844
Hardcover | 2013 | $35.00 / £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691147512
696 pp. | 6 x 9 | 72 halftones. | SHOPPING CART

Reviews | Table of Contents
Prologue[PDF] pdf-icon

Kafka: The Decisive Years

This volume of Reiner Stach's acclaimed and definitive biography of Franz Kafka 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.

Reiner Stach worked extensively on the definitive edition of Kafka’s collected works before embarking on this three-volume biography. The second volume, Kafka: The Decisive Years (Princeton), is also available. The first volume, covering Kafka’s childhood and youth, is forthcoming. Shelley Frisch’s translation of the second volume was awarded the Modern Language Association’s Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize. She has translated many other books from German, including biographies of Nietzsche and Einstein, and she holds a PhD in German literature from Princeton University.

Review:

"[S]cholars and specialists lost and absorbed in the many rooms of the Kafka factory will find much to discuss in the labors of Reiner Stach."--Joy Williams, New York Times Book Review

"[Stach's] resplendent Kafka: The Years of Insight, tracking Kafka's final eight years, meditates on the limits of the knowable even as it exhibits unparalleled dedication to the Kafka's life and work."--Gary Giddins, Wall Street Journal

"This well-researched new biography details the last nine years of Franz Kafka's life and explores the personal, social, and political events that shaped his writing. . . . Despite the narrow time frame, this insightful book is likely to become a standard by which future biographies are measured."--Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

"[S]uperbly tempered. . . . [T]hrough this robustly determined unearthing he rescues Kafka from the unearthliness of his repute. . . . Shelley Frisch, Stach's heroic American translator, movingly reproduces his intended breadth and pace and tone. . . . In this honest and honorable biography there is no trace of the Kafkaesque; but in it you may find a crystal granule of the Kafka who was."--Cynthia Ozick, New Republic

"Stach's book succeeds brilliantly at clearing a path through the thick metaphysical fog that has hung about Kafka's work almost since his death. . . . [I]lluminating. . . . It is common to say of biography that it sends you back to the work. Stach's book does this in spades, but, importantly for English readers, it also presents new aspects of the work in Shelley Frisch's superb and lucid translations. . . . Between them, she and Stach have produced a superbly fresh imaginative guide to the strange, clear, metaphor-free world of Kafka's prose."--Tim Martin, Telegraph

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    File created: 12/5/2014

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