A Biography

Nicholas Murray

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The definitive biography of the representative writer of our age

Although Franz Kafka (1883–1924) completed only a small number of works in his lifetime, perhaps no other author has had a greater influence on twentieth-century consciousness. This engrossing biography of the Czech novelist and short-story writer emphasizes the cultural and historical contexts of his fiction and focuses for the first time on his complex relationship with his father.

Nicholas Murray paints a picture of Kafka’s German-speaking Jewish family and the Prague mercantile bourgeoisie to which they belonged. He describes Kafka’s demanding professional career, his ill health, and the constantly receding prospects of a marriage he craved. He analyzes Kafka’s poor relationship with his father, Hermann, which found its most eloquent expression in Kafka’s story “The Judgement,” about a father who condemns his son to death by drowning. And he asserts that the unsettling flavor of Kafka’s books—stories suffused with guilt and frustration—derives from his sense of living in a mysteriously antagonistic world, of being a criminal without having knowingly committed a crime.

Compelling and empathetic, this book sheds new light on a man of unique genius and on his enigmatic works.

Nicholas Murray is the author of many books, including biographies of Bruce Chatwin, Matthew Arnold, and Aldous Huxley, a book of poetry, and two novels.

A selection of Readers' Subscription

"This book is the most accessible and readable biography of Kafka in English to date. Murray has accomplished quite a feat: to carefully capture the historical and contextual scope of Kafka’s literary life, as well as his complex inner and personal life."—Kathi Diamant, author of Kafka’s Last Love: The Mystery of Dora Diamant

“[A] definitive biography.”—Forecast

“[A] rich new biography.”—John Leonard, Harper’s Magazine

“We now have the final word on the man. . . . It’s engagingly written and a corrective to half a century of worshipful Kafka scholarship. Paradoxically, its unflinching depiction of Kafka’s neuroses and obsessions only makes it more appealing.”—Alan Bisbort, Hatfield (Mass.) Valley Advocate

“The work is one of the most compulsively readable books about Kafka that I've ever come across.”—Robert Leiter, Jewish Exponent

“Murray offers a new and original reading of one of the most complex writers of the 20th century, possibly the most significant such reading since the end of the Cold War. . . . This balanced literary biography is a masterpiece that belongs in all literary collections.”—Library Journal

“Murray is an experienced biographer and effectively relates Kafka’s brief life.”—Publishers Weekly

“Murray . . . gives a good, straightforward account of [Kafka’s] life, and of the work. . . . His portrait is all the more moving for the measured fashion in which it is executed. Murray’s Kafka is thoroughly human and yet more than human, too.”—John Banville, The Nation

"Is it possible to say anything about Franz Kafka that has not already been said before? One must wonder. After a twenty-year hiatus in English publication, Nicholas Murray's Kafka: A Biography proves that, indeed, it can be done. Murray succeeds famously in bringing to light a lesser-discussed, happier side to the life of this haunting and haunted writer of gloom, angst, and self-chastising. . . . Highly readable, honest. . . . Especially likely to please students and fellow researchers intrigued by Kafka because of its rich primary source material."—Susan Nyikos, Rocky Mountain Review
ISBN: 9780300106312
Publication Date: September 10, 2004
448 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
31 b/w illus.