Kafka's Last Trial

The Case of a Literary Legacy

Benjamin Balint (Author, Van Leer Institute)

 

The story of the international struggle to preserve Kafka’s literary legacy.

Kafka’s Last Trial begins with Kafka’s last instruction to his closest friend, Max Brod: to destroy all 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 But when the moment arrived in 1924, Brod could not bring himself to burn the unpublished works of the man he considered a literary genius—even a saint.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 Yet Brod left a wealth of still-unpublished papers to his secretary, who sold some, held on to the rest, and then passed the bulk of them on to her daughters, who in turn refused to release them.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?

Benjamin Balint offers a gripping account of the controversial trial in Israeli courts—brimming with dilemmas legal, ethical, and political—that determined the fate of Kafka’s manuscripts. Deeply informed, with sharply drawn portraits and a remarkable ability to evoke a time and place, Kafka’s Last Trial is at once a brilliant biographical portrait of a literary genius, and the story of two countries whose national obsessions with overcoming the traumas of the past came to a head in a hotly contested trial for the right to claim the literary legacy of one of our modern masters.

Book Details

  • Hardcover, Rough Front - Edge: Deckle, Feather, Uncut
  • September 2018
  • ISBN 978-1-324-00131-7
  • 6.7 × 9.6 in / 288 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide including Canada, Singapore and Malaysia, but excluding the British Commonwealth.

Endorsements & Reviews

“Benjamin Balint’s eloquent, insightful account of the long court battle over Franz Kafka’s literary remains, woven through with the story of that legacy’s formation, explores some of the most challenging ethical problems of our time, while also sustaining the intrigue of a rich courtroom drama.” — George Prochnik, Haaretz

“A tale pitting two Goliaths against one octogenarian David, untangled in exacting, riveting detail....A must-read.” — Rebecca Schuman, Slate

“Dramatic and illuminating....raises momentous questions about nationality, religion, literature, and even the Holocaust.” — Adam Kirsch, The Atlantic

“A vital, gripping tale of a deep friendship between two seemingly incompatible young men....a wonderful opportunity to peer behind the screen of a dramatic life, death and literary resurrection.” — Ruby Namdar, Moment

“Though Benjamin Balint’s masterful hunt for Kafka’s rightful ownership begins as a local dispute in an Israeli family court, it soon thickens into modernity’s most bitterly contentious cultural conundrum. Who should inherit Franz Kafka? The woman into whose hands his manuscripts fortuitously fell? Germany, the nation that murdered his sisters but claims his spirit? Israel, asserting a sovereign yet intimate ancestral right? Searing questions of language, of personal bequest, of friendship, of biographical evidence, of national pride, of justice, of deceit and betrayal, even of metaphysical allegiance, burn through Balint’s scrupulous trackings of Kafka’s final standing before the law.” — Cynthia Ozick, author of Foreign Bodies

“Thrilling and profound, Kafka’s Last Trial shines new light not only on the greatest writer of the twentieth century and the fate of his work, but also on the larger question of who owns art or has a right to claim guardianship of it. Benjamin Balint combines the sharp eye of the courtroom journalist with the keen meditations of a literary and cultural thinker, and his research and lively intelligence deliver insights on every page.” — Nicole Krauss, author of Forest Dark

Kafka’s Last Trial is a fascinating inquiry into—and meditation on—the nature of artistic genius and the proprietary claims any one individual or country has on the legacy of that genius. Benjamin Balint is both a superb investigative journalist and a gifted cultural critic. This is that rarest of books: a scholarly work that is also compulsively readable.” — Daphne Merkin, author of This Close to Happy

“A lively and balanced account of the international battle—fought in Israeli courts—for Franz Kafka’s manuscripts, letters, and diaries…Well-researched and insightful, this suspenseful work illuminates the complex relationship between literature, religion, culture, and nationality.” — Publishers Weekly

“Compelling....A fascinating tale of literary friendship, loyalty, political power, and feckless law.” — Kirkus

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