Out on 10 January 2019

Kafka's Last Trial

Benjamin Balint

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10 January 2019
9781509836710
304 pages
Synopsis

When Franz Kafka died in 1924, his loyal champion Max Brod could not bring himself to fulfil his friend’s last instruction: to burn his remaining manuscripts. Instead, Brod devoted the rest of his life to editing, publishing and canonizing Kafka’s work. By betraying his friend’s last wish, Brod twice rescued his legacy – first from physical destruction, and then from obscurity. But that betrayal was also eventually to lead to an international legal battle: as a writer in German, should Kafka’s papers come to rest in Germany, where his three sisters died as victims of the Holocaust? Or, as a Jewish writer, should his work be considered as a cultural inheritance of Israel, a state that did not exist at the time of his death?

Alongside an acutely observed portrait of Kafka, Benjamin Balint also traces the journey of the manuscripts Brod had rescued when he fled from Prague to Palestine in 1939 and offers a gripping account of the Israeli court case that determined their fate. He tells of a wrenching escape from the Nazi invaders of Czechoslovakia; of a love affair between exiles stranded in Tel Aviv; and of two countries whose national obsessions with the past eventually faced off in the courts.

In Kafka’s Last Trial Benjamin Balint invites us to consider Kafka’s remarkable legacy and to question whether that legacy belongs by right to the country of his language, that of his birth, or that of his cultural affinities – but also whether any nation state can lay claim to ownership of a writer’s work at all.

Thrilling and profound, Kafka’s Last Trial shines new light not only on the greatest writer of the twentieth 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

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

Dramatic and illuminating . . . raises momentous questions about nationality, religion, literature, and even the Holocaust.

The Atlantic