Lost Kafka writings resurface, trapped in trial

2010-07-22 08:23

It seems almost Kafkaesque: 10 safety deposit boxes of never-published writings by Franz Kafka, their exact contents unknown, are trapped in courts and bureaucracy, much like one of the nightmarish visions created by the author himself.

The papers, retrieved from bank vaults where they have sat untouched and unread for decades, could shed new light on one of literature’s darkest figures.

In the past week, the pages have been pulled from safety deposit boxes in Tel Aviv and Zurich, Switzerland, on the order of an

Israeli court over the objections of two elderly women who claim to have inherited them from their mother.

“Kafka could easily have written a story like this, where you try to do something and it all goes wrong and everything remains unresolved,” said Sara Loeb, a Tel Aviv-based author of two books about the writer. “It’s really a case of life imitating art.”

Literary experts in both cities are sifting through the boxes, and the contents are expected to be of priceless literary and monetary value.

Loeb says the cache could include endings to some of Kafka’s major works, many of which remained unfinished in his lifetime.

“We could find out about his methods, his style, how his art was created, how he built a text,” she said.

Kafka, a Prague native who wrote in German, was one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, known for his surreal tales of everyman protagonists crushed by mysterious authorities or twisted by unknown shames.

His works have become classics, like The Metamorphosis in which a salesman wakes up transformed into a giant insect, and The Trial, where a bank clerk is put through an excruciating trial without ever being told the charges against him.

But the newly emerged writings won’t see the light of day until the Israeli court unravels the tangled question of the collection’s rightful owner.

The case boils down to the interpretation of the will of Max Brod, Kafka’s longtime friend and publisher. Kafka bequeathed his writings to Brod shortly before his own death from tuberculosis in 1924, instructing his friend to burn everything unread.

Brod ignored Kafka’s wishes and published most of what was in his possession, including the novels The Trial, The Castle and Amerika.

But Brod, who smuggled some of the manuscripts to pre-state Israel when he fled the Nazis in 1938, didn’t publish everything.

Upon his death in 1968, Brod left his personal secretary, Esther Hoffe, in charge of his literary estate and instructed her to tratransfer the Kafka papers to an academic institution.

Instead, for the next four decades, Hoffe kept the papers in her Tel Aviv apartment and in safety deposit boxes in Tel Aviv and Zurich banks.

She sold some of the items for hefty sums. In 1988, for instance, Hoffe auctioned off the original manuscript of The Trial at Sotheby’s in London.

It went for $1.8?million (about R13.6?million) to the German Literature Archive in Marbach, north of Stuttgart.

When Hoffe died three years ago at age 101, she left the collection to her two daughters, Eva Hoffe and Ruth Wiesler, both Holocaust survivors like herself.

Oded Hacohen, a lawyer for Eva Hoffe, said Brod’s will gave the collection to her mother as a gift and gave her the right to bequeath it to the Israel National Museum or any institution of her choosing, in Israel or abroad, under whatever conditions she decides.

He cited a 1974 Tel Aviv District Court ruling backing that interpretation and quoting Brod’s will.

That means, he said, Hoffe inherited the documents legally and is free to do with them as she pleases, including selling them to the German Literature Archive, which has been negotiating with her to buy the remaining Kafka and Brod papers.

The Tel Aviv Family Court ordered that the collection be opened a year ago, saying it wanted to know what was in there before deciding who owned it. That ruling won’t come until experts are done inspecting the papers, which could take several weeks.

Ulrich von Buelow, the director of manuscripts at the German Literary Archive, said Brod and Esther Hoffe had frequent discussions with the archive over placing the material there.

“We are interested in having the manuscripts because we have so many others, also from Brod, and so many letters that would complement them,” von Buelow said.

Loeb suspected that Brod kept many of the documents away from the public for fear that their publication could compromise his friend’s legacy.

“Kafka was very critical. He was not an easy man,” she said. “Maybe Brod was worried that this could ruin his image.” 

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.