When Franz Kafka died in 1924, his loyal friend and champion Max Brod could not bring himself to fulfill Kafka’s last instruction: to burn his remaining manuscripts. Instead, Brod devoted the rest of his life to canonizing Kafka as the most prescient chronicler of the twentieth century. By betraying Kafka’s last wish, Brod twice rescued his legacy – first from physical destruction, and then from obscurity. But that betrayal also led to an international legal battle over which country could lay claim to Kafka’s legacy: Germany, where Kafka’s own sister perished in the Holocaust and where he would have suffered a similar fate had he remained, or Israel?
At once a brilliant biographical portrait of Kafka and Brod and the influential group of writers and intellectuals known as the Prague Circle, Kafka’s Last Trial offers a gripping account of the controversial trial in Israeli courts – brimming with dilemmas legal, ethical, and political – that determined the fate of the manuscripts Brod had rescued when he fled with Kafka’s papers at the last possible moment from Prague to Palestine in 1939.
It describes a wrenching escape from Nazi invaders as the gates of Europe closed; of a love affair between exiles stranded in Tel Aviv; and two countries whose national obsessions with overcoming the traumas of the past came to a head in a fascinating and hotly contested trial. Ultimately, Benjamin Balint invites us to question: who owns a literary legacy – the country of one’s language and birth or of one’s cultural and religious affinities – and what nation can claim a right to it.
About the Author
Benjamin Balint taught literature, including Kafka, at the Bard College humanities programme at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem. His first book, Running Commentary , was published by PublicAffairs in 2010. His second book, Jerusalem: City of the Book is co-authored with Merav Mack. His reviews and essays regularly appear in the Wall Street Journal, Die Zeit, Haaretz , the Weekly Standard , and the Claremont Review of Books. His translations of Hebrew poetry have appeared in the New Yorker and in Poetry International.
Though Benjamin Balint's masterful hunt for Kafka's rightful ownership begins as a local dispute in an Israeli Family Court, it soon thickens into modernity's most bitterly contentious cultural conundrum . . . Searing questions of language, of personal bequest, of friendship, of biographical evidence, of national pride, of justice, of deceit and betrayal, even of metaphysical allegiance, burn through Balint's scrupulous trackings of Kafka's final standing before the law. - Cynthia Ozick, Orange prize-shortlisted author of Foreign Bodies Thrilling and profound, Kafka's Last Trial shines new light not only on the greatest writer of the 20th century and the fate of his work, but also on the larger question of who owns art or has a right to claim guardianship of it . . .
[Balint's] research and lively intelligence deliver insights on every page. - Nicole Krauss