PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine
News and Notes
PNR266 Now Available
The latest issue of PN Review is now available to read online. read more
Most Read... Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Tim Parksin conversation with Natalia Ginzburg
(PN Review 49)
M. Wynn ThomasThe Other Side of the Hedge
(PN Review 239)
Jamie OsbornIn conversation with Sasha Dugdale
(PN Review 240)
Drew MilneTom Raworth’s Writing ‘present past improved’: Tom Raworth’s Writing
(PN Review 236)
Next Issue Stav Poleg Running Between Languages Jeffrey Meyers on Mr W.H. (Auden) Miles Burrows The Critic as Cleaning Lady Timothy Ades translates Brecht, Karen Leeder translates Ulrike Almut Sandig
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
PNR 250 Poetry Archive Banner
PN Review New Issue

This review is taken from PN Review 43, Volume 11 Number 5, May - June 1985.

KAFKA IN CONTEXT Ernst Pawel, The Nightmare of Reason: a Life of Franz Kafka (Harvill Press) £12.95

As Ernst Pawel mentions in a note on his bibliography for this book, 'the literature dealing with Kafka and his work currently comprises an estimated 15,000 titles in most of the world's major languages'. That makes it indecent now to write anything at all about Kafka. The justification for Pawel's new biography, and mine for noticing it briefly, is that Pawel was aware of the indecency, as he was aware of the almost total irrelevance of our curiosity about Kafka's person and life to an 'understanding' of his work. He has therefore spared us more speculation as to what Kafka's stories and novels mean, or how they are to be read. What he gives us, where possible, is biographical accounts of their composition and publication, with only the odd hint about possible connections between Kafka's conscious concerns at the time of writing and the fictions that astonished him no less than they have astonished his readers.

It is as a biography that Ernst Pawel's book excels, and not so much as a biography of Franz Kafka the writer as of the child and man trapped in a set of circumstances which his writing at once mirrored and transcended. Pawel is especially good at bringing home to readers of other nations and later generations what it was like to be born into the German-speaking Jewish enclave of Bohemia within the moribund Austro-Hungarian Empire. To do so, he has gathered a great variety of information about its social, economic, ...

Searching, please wait... animated waiting image