Kafka’s Fourth Novel and Other Lost Treasures

There was some major news today when Israel’s high court ruled that a cache of Kafka’s writings was to be made public for the first time in history.

Israel’s supreme court has ruled that Franz Kafka’s manuscripts are the property of the National Library of Israel, ending a lengthy legal battle, judicial sources said in Monday.

The nation’s top court on Sunday rejected an appeal by the heirs of Max Brod, a friend of Kafka and the executor of his estate to whom he had willed his manuscripts after his death in 1924.

This ignited a lot of excitement today on social media over what kinds of Kafkaesque treasures might await us readers, but sadly there will be little of any interest to the common reader interested solely in literary works. For those who are intrigued by Kafka’s life and want to know more about what he thought and how he lived, there will probably be many things of interest.

Sadly, the true literary Kafka treasure horde is likely lost forever. As Reiner Stach details in Kafka: The Years of Insight, it was Dora Diamant, a Pole nearly half Kafka’s age whom he fell in love with and lived with in Berlin in the last months of his life before dying of tuberculosis, who received the precious notebooks Kafka made during his last months on Earth. Sadly, these were seized by the Gestapo and have been lost:

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These writings likely included many literary works that Kafka had attempted while he lived in Berlin with Diamant during the Weimer hyperinflation, of which all we today have are three late works: “Josephine the Singer, or The Mouse Folk,” “The Burrow,” and “A Little Woman.”

The lost literary writings destroyed by the Gestapo also include a lengthy work that Kafka was inspired to write by a little girl and that, had it been found, could have plausibly made a fourth and last novel:

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The release of Kafka’s writings by the Israeli court has also led to some outcry that Kafka intended that his friend and literary executor Max Brod burn all of his work, so we should not be reading any of these pieces, in addition to virtually everything Kafka published during his lifetime. Here is what Kafka asked of his friend:

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While these statements appear conclusive, Kafka’s own actions provide some doubt. One should remember that Kafka attempted to pursue many courses of action during his life that made no logical sense and that were in fact impossible; some of these he lived long enough to regret and see the error of. Indeed, it seems unlikely that Kakfa would have had a legal right to prevent re-printing of many of the works of his that he published in his lifetime, in accordance with the wishes above. Moreover, Brod made it very clear to his friend that he found his writing of the greatest literary value and that he would under no circumstances burn it or rescind its publication. Despite this, Kafka continued to keep Brod as his executor and made no efforts to destroy his writings himself when it became clear that he was in declining health and would soon die.

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