8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2000
Amusing, affecting, and sometimes downright profound, the utterances of Kafka--as documented by his friend, Gustav Janouch--stand without parallel in 20th century literature. Even when read in a translation from the original German, one cannot help but be moved by the wisdom, insight, humor and poetry of Kafka's words. This book stands on par with Kafka's published novels and parables, and I give it my highest recommendation.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2000
I'm surprised to see this book is in print. I stumbled on a copy of the 1971, revised second clothbound edition in a community college library and have never seen it anywhere else.
Kafka is a hard man to know, let alone to like, through his fiction. One feels respect, admiration, awe ... but perhaps not affection or warmth. This book, compiled by a youthful acquaintance from his memories of chats with Kafka, provides a wonderfully human, if dubiously accurate (how could he remember all these lengthy quotations?), image of the man.
At times he seems pragmatically direct, even patronising to his listener: "There is too much noise in your poems; it is a by-product of youth, which indicates an excess of vitality. So that the noise is itself beautiful, though it has nothing in common with art. On the contrary! The noise mars the expression...." Sometimes he can be sardonic, as when he refers to newspapers as the vice of civilization -- they offer the events of the world with no meaning, a "heap of earth and sand" -- and remarks, "It's like smoking; one has to pay the printer the price of poisoning oneself." (Good thing he didn't live to see TV!)
More often, Kafka comes across as some sort of Zen master: "Just be quiet and patient. Let evil and unpleasantness pass quietly over you. Do not try to avoid them. On the contrary, observe them carefully. Let active understanding take the place of reflex irritation, and you will grow out of your trouble. Men can achieve greatness only by surmounting their own littleness."
Janouch relates a story from his father that Kafka once paid a powerful lawyer-friend to help out an injured laborer with his application for a disability pension, get his rightful compensation, and beat Kafka's employer, the Accident Insurance Institution.
Give this book five stars for interest and readability, three stars for shaky accuracy, and average at four.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
What is most striking and surprising to me about this book of conversations is the tone and voice in which Kafka is said to speak. There is not the qualified, parenthetical and always somehow self - protective, enigmatic and ironic Kafkean voice but instead simple and direct proclamations, statements , generalizations made clearly and without hesitation. Now it may well be that Kafka the older man spoke to his much younger student- admirer Janouch in this way. Rare I suspect were the occasions when Kafka the perpetual son who never married, had no children of his own could take on the role of a kind of senior wiseman. Janouch is cordial and ready to listen to the great man. And in truth I greatly enjoyed many of the pronouncements which had something of Kafka in them, but did not strike somehow because of the tone as authentically Kafkian( not in this case Kafkaesque).
For instance in talking about Poe and his escape into dream , Kafka defends him but warns, " Imagination only served him as a crutch.He wrote tales of mystery to make himself at home in the world. That's perfectly natural. Imagination has fewer pitfalls than Reality."
Or in another instance when Janouch and him meet Kafka's father and the father treats him like a schoolboy and sends him off to home. Kafka defends his father to Janouch with the words, " Love often takes the form of violence."
Or in another instance when they are talking of youth and aging, Kafka says one- dimensionally and definitely. " Youth is happy because it has the ability to see Beauty"
This work is full of such gems , bits of Kafka's talk which we the readers who for one reason or another consider ourselves ' admirers ' of take pleasure in adding to the bits of knowledge we have about him. And this almost as if by knowing a bit more about him when we might somehow rescue him and provide him a bit longer and better life than the one he actually had.
For he , the jackdaw ( He in the book by the way talks about the name 'Kafka ' which means ' jackdaw'and relates himself to this not particularly attractive and solitary bird)has given his readers so so much in literature that we would in some way repay him for his gift.
Jannouch's book may not be completely accurate and authentic. But it is a real contribution to our knowledge of Kafka. It gives us a bit more story, anecdote and statement to add to the legend. He is to be commended for this.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2001
Have you ever met a man who is so very shy and humble, that unlike Christ, who would take disciples, he stood alone by himself, remained unknown to all of us, till after he died, his friends started deparately publishing/telling his stories? Yet he still remained in the mystery. Not because he is lack of charm and wisdom, but because almost 80 years passed and a time that such a great soul lived has vanished so completely, we know no one that ever came close, and we no longer can recognize him. If you read the morden text-book literature ciritic, you would be so completely lost in the noise of the scholars, that you never know the truth.
I also read the first edition a couple years ago, (knowing that it was out of print for years, I photocopied the book page to page) it was also to my great surprise to see the book in print now, without knowing that the new edition has added many more flesh to the great man it described. I also found every page of it fascintaing to read, I like to have it in my reach, and randomly open one page and read. I also doubted how a 17year old can record the long comment by Kafka that he could hardly understand - so I close my eyes and try to imagine a young man in love with poetry and music, with a memory and heart that is still untainted - and I believe he can write this book.
If you love Kafka's book, I can challenge you with 99% assurance that you don't understand what he is telling you. If you follow the morden text-book critic like a dog, then you are absolutely wrong. If you still have space for truth in your mind, I challenge you to read Kafka more carefully, closer to your heart and, if you still don't understand him well, read his letters, diaries, and try this book as well. To me, this book helps greatly! It is eye opening! It is a must for any one who likes Kafka's work.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Gustav Janouch's father was a colleague of Franz Kafka's at the Workman's Accident Insurance Institute in Prague. Through his father, the seventeen-year-old Gustav, an aspiring literary type, was introduced to Kafka about 1920. Kafka, twenty years older, assumed the role of intellectual mentor to Gustav, who in turn was a worshipful acolyte and, apparently, a Boswell, dutifully recording every exchange he had with Kafka over the next two or so years before Kafka, his health deteriorating, left his position at the Institute.
Shortly after WWII, Janouch was persuaded to publish his notes of Kafka, and in 1951 Max Brod (Kafka's literary executor) brought out the first edition of CONVERSATIONS WITH KAFKA. That edition, according to Janouch, was incomplete; Brod somehow had omitted much of the best material. Some time later, Janouch discovered the rest of his original typed manuscript in a dilapidated old cardboard box in his former house that no longer was inhabited. And so, in 1971, a second, expanded edition of CONVERSATIONS WITH KAFKA was published. It was re-issued last year by New Directions with a distinctive cover portrait of Kafka by Maira Kalman and a fine introduction by Francine Prose.
The entire book should be taken with a large grain of salt. First, there are questions of authenticity and accuracy, among them, of course: Did Kafka really say everything that Janouch quotes him as saying? Even if one accepts the bona fides and good faith of Janouch (which I do), there are plenty of reasons to question whether Janouch accurately reports what Kafka actually said. And while the portrait of Kafka - his physical appearance, his mannerisms, his personality - is an engaging one, it is the portrait of a votary, who no doubt was impressionable and for whom Kafka surely was projecting a calculated image. And I suspect that Janouch's presentation was influenced by intervening events, especially the rise of the Nazis and the Holocaust.
Throughout the book, Kafka practically smothers Janouch (and the reader) with adages and advice. Nothing is said lightly or frivolously. Instead, Kafka takes scrupulous care with words, and virtually everything he says is thoughtful, philosophical, moral, portentous. The entire book comes across like a variation on the cliché of the guru on a mountain ledge being visited by an enthusiastic, puppy-like disciple.
Still, there is much of merit to the book, especially for someone who already is familiar with the work and life of Franz Kafka. (A corollary is that one should not rely on CONVERSATIONS WITH KAFKA as one's principal source for an understanding of the man or his work.) Much of what Kafka is recorded as saying is interesting, including his observations on other cultural or intellectual figures, such as Søren Kierkegaard, Edgar Allen Poe, Arthur Schopenhauer, Charlie Chaplin, and Walt Whitman. And there are plenty of distinctive aphorisms that one feels compelled to mark for future reference. Regarding these, I end up feeling much the same as Francine Prose: "If Kafka didn't say all these things, he said some of them and should have said the rest."
Here is one of them, the same one, incidentally, that Francine Prose chose to highlight: "Life is as infinitely great and profound as the immensity of the stars above us. One can only look at it through the narrow keyhole of one's personal existence. But through it one perceives more than one can see. So above all one must keep the keyhole clean."
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 4, 2000
The 1970's expanded version of this book is of questionable authenticity. The expanded edition purports to recall conversations from many decades earlier. The circumstances of the manuscript's discovery don't add up either. As for the original edition, it may be somewhat more reliable, but should be taken with a grain of salt too, especially when there are quotation marks. See ""Janouch's "Conversations With Kafka' Some Questions" in Modern Fiction Studies, Winter 1971-1972, 555-556. Peter F. Neumeyer
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2000
Absolutely wonderful. I found this delightful book far more accessible and practical than Kafka's beautiful, but very grim, short stories and novels. Kafka's conversations with a 17 year old poet show the very human side of this literary genius. Perhaps best of all, you can open almost any page and find an insightful dialog. Kafka, like many other ignored prophets, anticipated the madness of the Holocaust caused by pervasive prejudice, a cult of bureaucratic procedures, and deep fear of exceptional souls who don't follow the official line.