October 16, 2012
Long-hidden Kafka documents to be released
by Nick Davies
The Guardian’s Alison Flood reports that a long-standing trial over what was to be done with a collection of documents by Franz Kafka, as well as his good friend Max Brod, has finally come to an end, and the works will be made public. Kafka had left his writing to Brod upon his death in 1924 with instructions to burn it. Brod didn’t follow those instructions; he had several of Kafka’s famous novels published posthumously, including The Trial, The Castle, and Amerika. When he fled to Palestine in 1939, he took a suitcase filled with documents written by himself and by Kafka, ultimately leaving it to his secretary, Esther Hoffe, who in turn left part of it to her daughters. Until today, it has remained out of sight, locked up in safes in Tel Aviv and Zurich.
But this Sunday, Israeli judge Talia Kopelman-Pardo concluded a long-running trial, ruling that “the Kafka manuscripts, like the Brod estate, were not given to the plaintiffs as gifts,” and that because Brod specified in his will that his archive should be given to the library of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv’s municipal library, or the library of “any public institution in Israel or abroad,” the documents in question would be turned over to the Israeli National Library in Jerusalem.
Oren Weinberg, director of the Israeli National Library, expressed happiness about the ruling and promised that the library will make Kafka’s works available online, “thus fulfilling Brod’s wish of publishing Kafka’s writings for all literature lovers in Israel and the world.” Kafka experts aren’t entirely optimistic, though, that there’s a wealth of new material to be found in Brod’s suitcase. Ritchie Robertson, a professor at Oxford, says:
I doubt if much significant material by Kafka himself will emerge; if it were there, it would surely have been made known long before now. But his Hebrew notebooks will at least tell us more about his language studies. And Max Brod’s diaries will be of great interest. They may tell us more about Kafka (though Brod already quoted from them a lot in his biographical writings on Kafka) and they will certainly tell us about the social and intellectual milieu of early-20th-century Prague in which Kafka matured.
Still, Esther Hoffe’s surviving daughter Eva says she plans to appeal the decision, so Kafka’s hidden files might not come to light immediately.
Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.