CRF Blog

Kafkaesque

by Bill Hayes

In Kafkaesque for the New York Times Book Review, Joy Williams reviews Kafka: The Decisive Years by Reiner Stach.

We all know how he ate his food: he “Fletcherized” it, chewing each bite a hundred times before swallowing. He was almost six feet tall, meticulously groomed and preternaturally self-absorbed. He was an executive at the Workers’ Accident Insurance Institute in Prague, where his associates were lawyers, businessmen and engineers. He was well respected there and considered invaluable, though he was given endless leaves and extended vacations. He felt he was a citizen of another world, a white desert. It could certainly be argued that what he called his “animal stories” — “A Report to an Academy,” “The Burrow,” “Investigations of a Dog” — weren’t about humans at all. There is a beach named after him in the Baltic seaside resort of Müritz. He insisted he wanted to be a soldier, later a waiter in Palestine. He admitted he had “something against needlework.” He liked to read his work aloud to friends and found it terribly funny, sometimes doubling up with laughter. He did not like to read to rooms of strangers, but he did read “In the Penal Colony” at a German Expressionist event in Munich. Rilke was present. A newspaper review opined that the story was “too long, and not captivating enough.” When “The Metamorphosis” was to be published as a book in 1915, Kafka was afraid the cover illustrator would want to draw the insect. “Not that, please not that!” he wrote to the publisher. “The insect itself cannot be depicted. It cannot even be shown from a distance.” [more]