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The Lost Writings Hardcover – October 6, 2020
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A windfall for every reader: a trove of marvelous impossible-to-find Kafka stories in a masterful new translation by Michael HofmannSelected by the preeminent Kafka biographer and scholar Reiner Stach and newly translated by the peerless Michael Hofmann, the seventy-four pieces gathered here have been lost to sight for decades and two of them have never been translated into English before. Some stories are several pages long; some run about a page; a handful are only a few lines long: all are marvels. Even the most fragmentary texts are revelations. These pieces were drawn from two large volumes of the S. Fischer Verlag edition Nachgelassene Schriften und Fragmente (totaling some 1100 pages).
“Franz Kafka is the master of the literary fragment,” as Stach comments in his afterword: "In no other European author does the proportion of completed and published works loom quite so...small in the overall mass of his papers, which consist largely of broken-off beginnings.” In fact, as Hofmann recently added: “‘Finished' seems to me, in the context of Kafka, a dubious or ironic condition, anyway. The more finished, the less finished. The less finished, the more finished. Gregor Samsa’s sister Grete getting up to stretch in the streetcar. What kind of an ending is that?! There’s perhaps some distinction to be made between ‘finished' and ‘ended.' Everything continues to vibrate or unsettle, anyway. Reiner Stach points out that none of the three novels were ‘completed.' Some pieces break off, or are concluded, or stop―it doesn’t matter!―after two hundred pages, some after two lines. The gusto, the friendliness, the wit with which Kafka launches himself into these things is astonishing.”
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From the Publisher
― Becca Rothfeld, Bookforum
"This delightful collection features dozens of untitled fragments, false starts, and unfinished work by Kafka, found and chosen by biographer Stach...Opening sentences such as “I was allowed to set foot in a strange garden” and “The city resembles the sun,” make the reader’s pulse heighten with the thrill of entering the space of great literature. This offers precisely the kind of fare Kafka enthusiasts would hope for from the legendary writer’s archives. "
― Publishers Weekly
"They have been translated by polyphonic, wizardly Michael Hofmann, who has made of Kafka a marvelous, often very humorous writer of eccentric English prose."
― Reading in Translation
"These marks make visible the fourth wall that is implicit in each work Kafka left in some way unfinished, and even in those whose publication he permitted. It’s not only the characters, but Kafka himself who could find no way out. The Lost Writings helps us linger with him, in his impassable doorways."
― Nathan Goldman, The Baffler
"I think of a Kafka story as a perfect work of literary art, as approachable as it is strange, and as strange as it is approachable."
― Michael Hofmann
"Kafka is the greatest German writer of our time. Such poets as Rilke or such novelists as Thomas Mann are dwarfs or plaster saints in comparison to him."
― Vladimir Nabokov
"If the mundane is, for Kafka, the domain of improbability and impossibility―wherein even the simplest of gestures cannot be guaranteed―the extraordinary is evoked with an air of sheer certitude."
― Ari Linden, Public Books
About the Author
Reiner Stach, born in 1951 in Saxony, is the author of the definitive biography of Kafka. The first two volumes, published by Princeton University Press, received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly (“superb”), Library Journal (“a monumental accomplishment”), Kirkus (“essential”), and Booklist (“masterful”). “I can’t say enough about the liveliness and richness of Stach’s book,” Michael Dirda exclaimed in The Washington Post. “Every page feels excited, dynamic, utterly alive.”
The award-winning translator Michael Hofmann has translated works by Gert Hofmann, Franz Kafka, Heinrich von Kleist, and Joseph Roth for New Directions.
- Publisher : New Directions (October 6, 2020)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 128 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0811228010
- ISBN-13 : 978-0811228015
- Item Weight : 7.3 ounces
- Dimensions : 4.8 x 0.7 x 7.6 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #950,891 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #1,977 in Classic American Literature
- #23,573 in Classic Literature & Fiction
- #45,201 in Literary Fiction (Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Many serious writers collect piles of these initial pages with enough merit to avoid the trash, while somehow lacking enough substance, vision, or depth to develop any further "just now."
Kafka ordered his friend, confidant, editor, and lterary sounding board (Max Brod) to destroy all of Kafka's works in varying stages of completion upon his death. However, Max chose to repair, complete, revise, and organize Kafka's works for publication many years after Kafka's death. Fortunately, Kafka's otherwise unknown works would never have reached an appreciative world audience.
This small volume is a treasure trove of insights into one of the most enigmatic writers of the last century. I found these fragments both inspiring and disturbing. Inspiring because they allow the reader to see brief starts and beginnings by a gifted author and disturbing because of their limitations and what they lacked. Half an idea goes nowhere fast. Ugh!
These bits and pieces of not fully developed work give glimpses into Kafka's genius and potential emotional instability, making them worthy of study and discussion. Somewhat troubling too in the great potential for misinterpretation and misunderstanding because of their brevity and lack of further development or needed revision by the original author.
As such, I have mixed feelings about this work. I do suggest that any reader review the afterword first to understand the work's historical context and development, including the potential value of these fragments for review.
Ultimately, only each reader can determine who benefits and identify any future potential meaning.
What annoys me is the book’s cover “design.” Kenan must have thought it “a nice touch” if the new book appeared filthy and bloodstained. Okay, I almost fell for his childish prank until I googled images of the thing and realized I had not been gypped by some poor bleeding box packer at Amazon. Speaking of Amazon, they might want to include a clearer and much larger “pic” of the book to avoid similar reactions by unwary buyers. Kenan must’ve been all giggly gloating about all the returns and complaints Amazon and others would inevitably be receiving from outraged buyers. I suppose the idiot considered the filthy, blood spattered “look” of his cover to be hip? New Directions is certainly going in a new direction: South.
Isn’t Kenan the same “artist” who had brief success back in the 1970s with his syrupy “Love is...” comics? The two characters, a mindless hubby and his doe-eyed, domineering “little wife,” were depicted totally nude (Wow! Cutting edge, man), but without genitalia. How imaginative.