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'A highly entertaining story of literary friendship, epic legal battles and cultural politics centred on one of the most enigmatic writers of the 20th century' Financial Times
When Franz Kafka died in 1924, his friend Max Brod could not bring himself to fulfil the writer’s last instruction: to burn his remaining manuscripts. Instead, Brod took them with him to Palestine in 1939, and devoted the rest of his life to editing and canonizing Kafka’s work. By betraying his last wish, Brod twice rescued his legacy – first from physical destruction, and then from obscurity.
In Kafka’s Last Trial, Benjamin Balint offers a gripping account of the contest for ownership that followed, ending in Israeli courts with a controversial trial – brimming with legal, ethical, and political dilemmas – that would determine the fate of Kafka’s manuscripts. This is at once a biographical portrait of a literary genius, and the story of two countries whose national obsessions with overcoming the traumas of the past came to a head in a hotly contested trial for the right to claim the literary legacy of one of our modern masters.
Balint (Running Commentary), a research fellow at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem, delivers a lively and balanced account of the international battle fought in Israeli courts for Franz Kafka's manuscripts, letters, and diaries. Heard in 2016, the case involved three parties: the National Library of Israel, the German Literature Archive in Marbach, and Eva Hoffe, who inherited the documents from her mother. But the story begins much earlier, in 1924, when Kafka died of tuberculosis and his close friend, Max Brod, could not bring himself to follow Kafka's last instructions to burn his remaining papers. Instead, Brod devoted most of his life to promoting Kafka's legacy. When Brod, who fled to Palestine during WWII, died in Tel Aviv in 1968, Kafka's papers passed to Brod's secretary and confidante, Esther Hoffe, Eva's mother. In addition to relating this background, Balint thoughtfully examines the arguments brought up at the trial: what Judaism meant to Kafka, who wrote in German, "steeped himself in German literature," and wondered, in his diary, what he had in common with other Jews, yet discovered a love of Yiddish theater and Hebrew; Israel's ambivalence to Kafka and diaspora culture; and the ways both Israel and Germany claimed Kafka's legacy. Well-researched and insightful, this suspenseful work illuminates the complex relationship between literature, religion, culture, and nationality.