Monday, 1 July 2013


Do you know the term "Kafkaesque"?

It applies to strange, surreal situations such as those that Franz Kafka, the writer who gave origin to the word, described in his novels and short stories, often apparently absurd and incredible.

Kafka, one of the greatest and most influential writers, was born on July 3rd, 1883. He only lived for forty-one years and couldn't see most of  his works published, but his writings have had an extraordinary impact on 20th century writers.

He was born in Prague and was the oldest child of a middle-class family, the only male, as his two brothers died at an early age.

He wrote in German, the language he normally used. His dream was moving to Berlin, but he was only able to do it at the end of his life.

We can read his writings thanks to his friend Max Brod, who protected and preserved them even through the Nazi regime which killed many of Franz's relatives and friends. Brod made most of them public years after Kafka's death in 1924, even though Kafka had asked him to destroy them (perhaps not credibly enough). Some of his work and documents are still unpublished, in private hands, awaiting a legal decision over their ownership.

Kafka's work is extremely personal, an expression of his inner fight through life, an ordeal from which he could only escape through writing. I am literature, he wrote. He loved life deeply but often found pressure unbearable, especially that pressure which forces one to follow certain trodden paths that he could only question, not accept.

Marriage and family life, for example, were an obligation for him as a Jew, but not made for Kafka. He attempted to abide, though, and had a fiancĂ©e for years, Felice Bauer. He wrote dozens of letters to her, who lived in Berlin,  and was about to marry her twice, but in the end he was unable to conform. 

His father was a very important figure in his life, the "perfect" example and reminder of what he "should" be, solid and hardworking, a provider to a close-knit  family, but their relationship was not an easy one, as Kafka often felt crushed by the overwhelming figure of his father. Later he would express his feelings in a long letter published under the title A Letter to His Father.

We could say he was almost relieved when, in 1917, the doctors gave him the terrible diagnosis: tuberculosis. This seemed to make him feel liberated from some obligations. He then broke off with Felice and could finally spend most of his time writing. Later on he moved to Berlin.

Throughout his life, Kafka wrote many letters to his friends, lovers, relatives and publishers; he wrote novels and short stories, and we can even read his personal diaries, the thoughts of one of those men who make us aware of unknown realities      that only a few can sense.

   "A cage went in search of a bird
                                                      (The Blue Octavo Notebooks)

Watch this video for more information on Kafka's life and work:

See some images of Kafka, Prague and the women he loved.

[Song: Where is the Village, sung in Yiddish and English by the Barry Sisters]

And a free adaptation of one of his best-known works: 
The Metamorphosis.

Oppressive institutions which annul the individual are a main concern of Kafka's. The Metamorphosis deals with one them, the family.

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