Franz Kafka The Poet of Shame and Guilt Saul Friedländer

Jewish Lives
Publication date:
22 Mar 2016
Yale University Press
200 pages: 210 x 146 x 17mm
2 b-w illus.
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A highly original and engaging appraisal of Kafka’s life, work, legacy, and thought

Franz Kafka was the poet of his own disorder. Throughout his life he struggled with a pervasive sense of shame and guilt that left traces in his daily existence—in his many letters, in his extensive diaries, and especially in his fiction. This stimulating book investigates some of the sources of Kafka’s personal anguish and its complex reflections in his imaginary world.

In his query, Saul Friedländer probes major aspects of Kafka’s life (family, Judaism, love and sex, writing, illness, and despair) that until now have been skewed by posthumous censorship. Contrary to Kafka’s dying request that all his papers be burned, Max Brod, Kafka’s closest friend and literary executor, edited and published the author’s novels and other works soon after his death in 1924. Friedländer shows that, when reinserted in Kafka’s letters and diaries, deleted segments lift the mask of “sainthood” frequently attached to the writer and thus restore previously hidden aspects of his individuality.

Saul Friedländer is a renowned historian of the Holocaust and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. He is Distinguished Emeritus Professor of History and Club 39 Endowed Chair in Holocaust Studies at UCLA. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

"If you have not read much Kafka criticism, Saul Friedlander's biographical essay is a perfect introduction. [...] His book is a clearly written and thoughtful synthesis, pulling together many of the most interesting debates about Kafka, from his Jewishness to his sexuality, and using them to reflect on Kafka's writing. [...] Friedlander moves skilfully between the diaries and the letters and the fiction, exploring this area. This is the most original and disturbing part of the book. Friedlander's book is an excellent opening volume to a new series, Jewish Lives, published by Yale University Press. This is a series of handsomely produced introductions to major Jewish figures [...] The range is impressive, including a number of titles on figures from popular culture [...] If they are all as thoughtful and illuminating as Franz Kafka, this series is well worth looking out for." —David Herman, Jewish Renaissance

“Friedländer’s concise new book, born of both sorrow and affection, is an ideal place to begin among the hulking alps of Kafka studies.”—William Giraldi, New Republic

 “This is a book that springs directly from the author's background and from a manifest love for—and great knowledge of—Kafka's work and his milieu. The book's main objective is to mine the question of Kafka's guilt and shame, and Friedlander is more probing, historical and impartial in examining these questions than just about any other scholar I know.”—Mark Anderson, author of Reading Kafka and Kafka’s Clothes

"This book is a clear, uncensorious and serious contribution to the publisher’s Jewish Lives series. It is the work of a great historian paying careful attention to a great and disquieting writer."—Robert Eaglestone, Times Higher Education Supplement

"Like Kafka’s work, Franz Kafka is dense and provocative. In his exploration of Kafka’s work, Friedländer calls on his rich knowledge of Central Europe during Kafka’s lifetime. . . A candid and stimulating examination of the forces that shaped Kafka’s anguished life/work."—Maron L. Waxman, Jewish Book Council

"One turns with relief to the immensely readable Saul Friedländer, whose short biographical essay on Kafka appears in the excellent Jewish Lives series from Yale University Press. . . . Friedländer’s style is elegant and lucid, his knowledge of Kafka’s oeuvre and social world superb, his command of the critical literature impeccable. . . . Could very well serve as the new classic short introduction to modernism’s most elusive writer."—Weekly Standard

"A creative, risky approach to interpreting Kafka. . . . Friedländer's approach should motivate us to do what we should: reread one of the masters of 20th-century fiction."—The Forward

"Interweaving Kafka’s letters, diaries and stories, [Friedlander] shows us a new and vital Kafka, who made literature out of all the things he brilliantly failed at in his mostly painful life. Friedlander, the great historian of the Holocaust, intricately reveals how longing and personal history can disturb and inspire genius. It’s as if I’d never read Kafka before, and finally know him."—Philip Schultz, Harriet: A Poetry Blog, the Poetry Foundation

"[Friedländer] has clearly mastered the vast scholarship that has attached itself to Kafka, and he brings fresh insights of his own to the challenging body of work Kafka left behind."—Jonathan Kirsch, Jewish Journal

Selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2013 in theÿGermanic Category.

"This stimulating book investigates some of the sources of Kafka's personal anguish and its complex reflections in his imaginary world."—Jewish Ledger