Kafka havde det sgu heller ikke så hyggeligt

Death took no chances with Kafka and laid three traps for his life. Parched and voiceless from TB of the larynx, he was forty. The victim, as he himself said, of a conspiracy by his own body. But had his lungs not ganged up on him, there was a second trap, twenty years down the line when the agents of death would have shunted him, as they did his three sisters, into the gas chambers. That fate, though it was not to be his, is evident in his last photograph. It is a face that prefigures the concentration camp.

But say that in 1924 he cheats death and a spell in the sanatorium restores him to health. In 1938 he sees what is coming – Kafka after all was more canny than he is given credit for, not least by Kafka himself – and so he slips away from Prague in time. J. P. Stern imagines him fighting with the partisans; Philip Roth finds him a poor teacher of Hebrew in Newark, New Jersey. Whatever his future when he leaves Prague, he becomes what he has always been, a refugee. Maybe (for there is no harm in dreams) he even lives long enough to find himself the great man he never knew he was. Maybe (the most impossible dream of all) he actually succeeds in putting on weight. So where is death now? Waiting for Kafka in some Park Avenue consulting room where he goes with what he takes to be a recurrence of his old chest complaint.

- Quite curable now, of course, the TB. No problem. However, regarding your chest you say you managed a factory once?
- Yes. For my brother-in-law. For three or four years.
- When was that?
- A long time ago. It closed in 1917. In Prague.
- What kind of factory was it?
- Building materials. Asbestos.
(Alan Bennett, Kafka's Dick, introduction.)


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