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This article is taken from PN Review 155, Volume 30 Number 3, January - February 2004.

Self-Made Man: Kafka and America Iain Bamforth
 

`How should one live? - the generality of one already stakes a claim.'
                                                        Bernard Williams

`The story I am writing, designed, I fear, in such a way that it will never be completed, is called, to give you a rough idea, The Man Who Disappeared, and takes place entirely in the United States of America.' That was Kafka announcing to the woman who would become his fiancée, dearest Fraülein Felice, in November 1912 that he was going to cut down on writing long letters to her during the week, in order `to spend every ounce' of himself on his novel, which, he hastened to add, belonged to her too. Writing novels, he told his diary the same year, was going to be his cure for restlessness.

In January 1913, after repeated attempts to work himself back into the novel, he put it aside. He took it up again the following year, having seen the first, and in some ways least interesting, chapter published by Kurt Wolff in Leipzig as The Stoker and read it to his `most reluctantly listening father', only to leave it - this time for good - in the bottom drawer. The first of his three novels to be written, it was the last published after his death (in 1927, when Kafka's friend and editor Max Brod gave it the name Amerika). Despite being, in the words of its first English translator Edwin Muir, who published his version in 1938, ...


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