Kafka : The Years of Insight

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This volume of Reiner Stach's acclaimed and definitive biography of Franz Kafka tells the story of the final years of the writer's life, from 1916 to 1924--a period during which the world Kafka had known came to an end. Stach's riveting narrative, which reflects the latest findings about Kafka's life and works, draws readers in with nearly cinematic precision, zooming in for extreme close-ups of Kafka's personal life, then pulling back for panoramic shots of a wider world blighted by World War I, disease, and inflation. In these years, Kafka was spared military service at the front, yet his work as a civil servant brought him into chilling proximity with its grim realities. He was witness to unspeakable misery, lost the financial security he had been counting on to lead the life of a writer, and remained captive for years in his hometown of Prague. The outbreak of tuberculosis and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire constituted a double shock for Kafka, and made him agonizingly aware of his increasing rootlessness.
He began to pose broader existential questions, and his writing grew terser and more reflective, from the parable-like Country Doctor stories and A Hunger Artist to The Castle. A door seemed to open in the form of a passionate relationship with the Czech journalist Milena Jesenska. But the romance was unfulfilled and Kafka, an incurably ill German Jew with a Czech passport, continued to suffer. However, his predicament only sharpened his perceptiveness, and the final period of his life became the years of insight.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 696 pages
  • 152 x 235 x 43.69mm | 1,162g
  • New Jersey, United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • 0691147515
  • 9780691147512
  • 256,894

Back cover copy

"Stach pursues what can be known of Kafka so far and so exhaustively. . . . Sometimes I thought of Stach as the captive and Kafka as the captor. . . . Vivid and valuable."--Rivka Galchen

"Stach's plentiful virtues include his vivid social and historical panoramas, especially of the years of war, epidemics, and inflation; his narrative brio (the greatest part of the book is riveting); and his indefatigable scholarship, providing access to unpublished letters of signal importance."--Stanley Corngold, author of Lambent Traces: Franz Kafka

"Enlightening, readable, and convincing, this is a major addition to our understanding of Kafka's life. Stach has a connection to and familiarity with his subject that no other biographer can match. He gives us a real understanding of the ground from which Kafka's writings emerged--what he was reading, which lectures and concerts he was attending, who he was talking with and writing to, and what he was saying to himself when he was writing. Closer we cannot get. And Shelley Frisch's translation is a marvel--accurate, fresh, and elegant."--Mark Anderson, author of Reading Kafka and Kafka's Clothes.
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Table of contents

PROLOGUE The Ants of Prague 1 CHAPTER ONE Stepping Outside the Self 8 CHAPTER TWO No Literary Prize for Kafka 31 CHAPTER THREE "Civilian Kavka": The Work of War 46 CHAPTER FOUR The Marvel of Marienbad 83 CHAPTER FIVE What Do I Have in Common with Jews? 105 CHAPTER SIX Kafka Encounters His Readers 129 CHAPTER SEVEN The Alchemist 141 CHAPTER EIGHT Ottla and Felice 157 CHAPTER NINE The Country Doctor Ventures Out 170 CHAPTER TEN Mycobacterium tuberculosis 186 CHAPTER ELEVEN Zurau's Ark 201 CHAPTER TWELVE Meditations 222 CHAPTER THIRTEEN Spanish Influenza, Czech Revolt, Jewish Angst 244 CHAPTER FOURTEEN The Pariah Girl 266 CHAPTER FIFTEEN The Unposted Letter to Hermann Kafka 287 CHAPTER SIXTEEN Merano, Second Class 311 CHAPTER SEVENTEEN Milena 319 CHAPTER EIGHTEEN Living Fires 332 CHAPTER NINETEEN The Big Nevertheless 353 CHAPTER TWENTY Escape to the Mountains 380 CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE Fever and Snow: Tatranske Matliary 387 CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO The Internal and the External Clock 404 CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE The Personal Myth: The Castle 423 CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR Retiree and Hunger Artist 451 CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE The Palestinian 475 CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX Dora 497 CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN The Edge of Berlin 512 CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT Last Sorrow 546 EPILOGUE 573 Acknowledgments 577 Translator's Note 579 Key to Abbreviations 581 Notes 583 Bibliography 647 Photo Credits 665 Index 667
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Review quote

Winner of the 2014 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize Finalist for the 2013 National Jewish Book Award in History, Jewish Book Council One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2014 One of The Guardian Best Books of 2013, chosen by Colm Toibin Longlisted for the 2014 PEN Translation Award, Pen American Center "[S]cholars and specialists lost and absorbed in the many rooms of the Kafka factory will find much to discuss in the labors of Reiner Stach."--Joy Williams, New York Times Book Review "[Stach's] resplendent Kafka: The Years of Insight, tracking Kafka's final eight years, meditates on the limits of the knowable even as it exhibits unparalleled dedication to the Kafka's life and work."--Gary Giddins, Wall Street Journal "This well-researched new biography details the last nine years of Franz Kafka's life and explores the personal, social, and political events that shaped his writing... Despite the narrow time frame, this insightful book is likely to become a standard by which future biographies are measured."--Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) "[S]uperbly tempered... [T]hrough this robustly determined unearthing he rescues Kafka from the unearthliness of his repute... Shelley Frisch, Stach's heroic American translator, movingly reproduces his intended breadth and pace and tone... In this honest and honorable biography there is no trace of the Kafkaesque; but in it you may find a crystal granule of the Kafka who was."--Cynthia Ozick, New Republic "Stach's book succeeds brilliantly at clearing a path through the thick metaphysical fog that has hung about Kafka's work almost since his death... [I]lluminating... It is common to say of biography that it sends you back to the work. Stach's book does this in spades, but, importantly for English readers, it also presents new aspects of the work in Shelley Frisch's superb and lucid translations... Between them, she and Stach have produced a superbly fresh imaginative guide to the strange, clear, metaphor-free world of Kafka's prose."--Tim Martin, Telegraph "Stach reads the work and the life with minute care and sympathy. He has a deep understanding of the world that Kafka came from and this is matched by an intelligence and tact about the impulse behind the work itself."--Colm Toibin, Irish Independent "This work is a monumental accomplishment with a first-rate translation by scholar Frisch."--Library Journal (Starred Review) "Conclusion of a massive, comprehensive life of the famed Czech/German/Jewish writer, chockablock with neuroses, failures and moments of brilliance... An illuminating book built, like its subject's life, on small episodes rather than great, dramatic turning points. Essential for students and serious readers of Kafka."--Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review) "With impressive insight into imaginative artistry, Stach illuminates the way Kafka responds to personal trauma and global firestorm, sometimes incorporating his negative circumstances into his fiction, but sometimes transcending those circumstances in metaphysical creations informed by a profoundly personal myth. This literary-biographical analysis will help scholars penetrate major Kafka works, including The Castle and The Trial, The Hunger Artist and The Burrow. Thanks to a lucid translation, English-speaking readers can now share the German enthusiasm for this masterful portrait."--Bryce Christensen, Booklist (Starred Review) "[T]he definitive biography of Kafka... [A] supple and accurate English translation by Shelley Frisch... Stach presents a full, nuanced treatment of Kafka's feelings about Jewishness. He is particularly adept in his depiction of Kafka's relationships with the women he loved."--David Mikics, Forward.com "[M]agnificent."--John Carey, Sunday Times "[S]uperlative, readable and ... genuinely gripping... Stach manages to recreate the worlds through which Kafka moved and in which he suffered in a manner that reads ... like high-quality fiction... Stach on Kafka is more than worthy to be put on a shelf of the magisterial literary biographies of the last few decades... It is quite splendid."--Kevin Jackson, Literary Review "No one will ever be able to write Kafka's story as well as he could, but Reiner Stach, a first-class German scholar, does remarkably well in Kafka: The Years of Insight."--Robert Fulford, National Post "The second volume of Reiner Stach's epic biography of Franz Kafka ... [is] a tangle of counter-grained and often under-sourced life stories, but reading Stach's magnificent narrative (wonderfully translated by Shelley Frisch) straight through brings death, not life, to the forefront. Stach is a compulsively readable writer... [A]s in the previous volume, the prose in The Years of Insight is supple and very appealingly complex--all of which, once again, is perfectly rendered by Frisch."--Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Monthly "[H]ighly readable."--Ian Thomson, Financial Times "[M]onumental... [A] superb English-language translation by Shelly Frisch ... now reprinted in a handsome paperback by Princeton... In this first volume, Stach sifts through that rubble with huge amounts of energy and discretion (and Frisch follows him without a misstep; it feels like exactly the book I read ten years ago in its original language)... His letters and journals are marshaled with sometimes breathtaking ingenuity, and the sheer scope of the work allows Stach to be expansive when painting his backgrounds... Always in these recountings, Stach is searching for his elusive subject, trying--as all previous biographers have tried, though none so well--to hear Kafka's strange, singular voice in the noise... Kafka: The Decisive Years was greeted with a loud chorus of praise when it first appeared in English, and the passage of almost a decade has cast no doubt on that verdict. Princeton has re-issued this classic so that it can stand next to the following volume, Kafka: The Years of Insight, newly published in hardcover. No one interested in Kafka (or, by almost inevitable extension, 20th century literature) should miss either."--Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Monthly "A definitive biography of a rare writer... [M]asterful... [T]his biography makes for an excellent read. Mr Stach, a German academic, expertly presents Kafka's struggles with his work and health against a wider background of the first world war, the birth of Czechoslovakia and the hyperinflation of the 1920s."--The Economist "A definitive biography of a writer as transcendent as Franz Kafka might be unattainable, but in his massive trilogy, Stach comes as close as one can."--Robert Legvold, Foreign Affairs "[A] further passionate attempt to reinscribe works such as Metamorphosis, A Report To An Academy, and The Castle on 21st century readers... Stach does us a great service... By dint of a rhythmic sequencing of narration and discussion, Stach illuminates the symbiosis of Kafka's inner catastrophes and vocational ardour with the violent military devastation of Europe, the birth of the Czech Republic and his frail body's tortuous decline."--Gregory Day, The Age Praise for Kafka: The Years of Insight: "It would be impossible to describe the work and essence of this key artist of the twentieth century in a livelier and more vibrant style... A masterpiece of the art of interpretation and of empathy."--Der Tagesspiegel Praise for Kafka: The Years of Insight: "Reiner Stach has recounted Kafka's life more vividly than any other biographer. The reader moves through his Kafka biography, which reads like a novel, in breathless anticipation... No one has written about Kafka as suggestively and insightfully, and in such a beautiful and clear language, as Reiner Stach."--Ulrich Greiner, Die Zeit "[E]xtensive ... impeccably translated... Each volume is crafted such that one simply must read the other two: Stach peppers his writing with tantalizingly vague references and foreshadowings to elsewhere in the series, and his allusions compel the reader to absorb Kafka's complete biography from start to finish... The author's meticulous chronicle of Kafka's life by no means precludes examination of the literary legacy that it produced; rather, it sharpens our understanding of some of Kafka's most obscure and abstract works... An utterly thorough biography, the three-volume set will prove a treasure to any admirer of Franz Kafka--or good research."--Nat Bernstein, Jewish Book Council "Kafka: The Years of Insight ... wonderfully translated ... is Volume III of what will surely be the definitive biography. Kafka is brought to vivid life by an author at once scholarly and entertaining."--John Banville, New Statesman "Stach's declared aim is to find out what it felt like to be Kafka, and he succeeds."--John Banville, Irish Times "Countering the prevailing notion that Kafka was out of touch with reality, Stach details how this quixotic modernist was actually well informed about the crisis and how this knowledge altered the course of his writing. In addition to being a skillful biographer, Stach is an authority on Kafka, having worked for more than a decade on the definitive critical edition of Kafka's writings... [T]his biography is an extraordinary accomplishment."--Choice "Stach's riveting narrative, which reflects the latest findings about Kafka's life and works, draws readers in with a nearly cinematic power, zooming in for extreme close-ups of Kafka's personal life, then pulling back for panoramic shots of a wider world."--World Book Industry "Reiner Stach's biography of Franz Kafka, planned for three volumes, has assumed a commanding position in a crowded field: this is a work that simply must be studied by anyone with a serious interest in Kafka... The appearance in English of this groundbreaking work is a publishing event of major importance."--Peter Zusi, Slavic Review "Stach pursues what can be known of Kafka so far and so exhaustively... Sometimes I thought of Stach as the captive and Kafka as the captor... Vivid and valuable."--Rivka Galchen "Masterly ... Stach's great achievement is to place the literary work into a biographical context that emphasises the interplay of memory, experience and symbolism in the writing... A triumph of biography and literary scholarship."--PD Smith, Guardian "[A] brilliant, authoritative portrait."--John Yargo, The Millions "Superbly translated from German by Shelley Frisch... Illuminating facts and intelligent commentary... The three volumes are so carefully composed and densely woven--blending history, literary analysis, psychological insights, quotes and commentary from others--that it would be practically impossible to produce an abridged version in a single volume."--Alexander Adams, Spiked Review
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About Reiner Stach

Reiner Stach worked extensively on the definitive edition of Kafka's collected works before embarking on this three-volume biography. Shelley Frisch's translation of the second volume was awarded the Modern Language Association's Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize and her translation of the third volume was awarded the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize. She has translated many other books from German, including biographies of Nietzsche and Einstein, and she holds a PhD in German literature from Princeton University.
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Rating details

143 ratings
4.6 out of 5 stars
5 67% (96)
4 27% (38)
3 6% (8)
2 1% (1)
1 0% (0)
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