Author Benjamin Balint’s acclaimed book, Kafka’s Last Trial, begins with Kafka’s last instruction to his closest friend, Max Brod: to destroy all of his remaining papers upon his death. But when the moment arrived in 1924, Brod could not bring himself to burn the unpublished works of the man he considered a literary genius – even a saint. Instead, Brod devoted his life to championing Kafka’s writing, rescuing his legacy from obscurity and physical destruction. The story of Kafka’s posthumous life is itself Kafkaesque. By the time of Brod’s own death in Tel Aviv in 1968, Kafka’s major works had been published, transforming the once little-known writer into a pillar of literary modernism. Yet Brod left a wealth of still-unpublished papers to his secretary, who sold some, held on to the rest and then passed the bulk of them on to her daughters, who in turn refused to release them. An international legal battle erupted to determine which country could claim ownership of Kafka’s work: Israel, where Kafka dreamed of living but never entered, or Germany, where Kafka’s three sisters perished in the Holocaust. Balint invites us to consider Kafka’s remarkable legacy and to question whether that legacy belongs by right to the country of his language, that of his birth or that of his cultural affinities – but also whether any nation-state can lay claim to ownership of a writer’s work at all.
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