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Jewish Lives Biography / Book on Franz Kafka/Writer Preview
April 1, 2013
224 P., 5.5" x 8.25"

Franz Kafka: The Poet of Shame and Guilt

by Saul Friedlander

Franz Kafka was the poet of his own disorder. Throughout his life he struggled with a pervasive sense of shame and guilt that left traces in his daily existence—in his many letters, in his extensive diaries, and especially in his fiction. This stimulating book investigates some of the sources of Kafka’s personal anguish and its complex reflections in his imaginary world.

In his query, Saul Friedländer probes major aspects of Kafka’s life (family, Judaism, love and sex, writing, illness, and despair) that until now have been skewed by posthumous censorship. Contrary to Kafka’s dying request that all his papers be burned, Max Brod, Kafka’s closest friend and literary executor, edited and published the author’s novels and other works soon after his death in 1924. Friedländer shows that, when reinserted in Kafka’s letters and diaries, deleted segments lift the mask of “sainthood” frequently attached to the writer and thus restore previously hidden aspects of his individuality.

Feature Review: 

“The Pulitzer-winning Holocaust historian Saul Friedländer reassesses [Kafka’s] letters and diaries, emphasizing ‘the personal anguish’ that informed Kafka’s singular canon." --The New Republic

"One turns with relief to the immensely readable Saul Friedländer, whose short biographical essay on Kafka appears in the excellent Jewish Lives series from Yale University Press. . . . Friedländer’s style is elegant and lucid, his knowledge of Kafka’s oeuvre and social world superb, his command of the critical literature impeccable. . . . Could very well serve as the new classic short introduction to modernism’s most elusive writer."--Weekly Standard

"[Friedlander] has clearly mastered the vast scholarship that has attached itself to Kafka, and he brings fresh insights of his own to the challenging body of work Kafka left behind."--Jonathan Kirsch, Jewish Journal

“The Pulitzer-winning Holocaust historian Saul Friedländer reassesses [Kafka’s] letters and diaries, emphasizing ‘the personal anguish’ that informed Kafka’s singular canon. Friedländer’s concise new book, born of both sorrow and affection, is an ideal place to begin among the hulking alps of Kafka studies.” --William Giraldi, The New Republic

"This book is a clear, uncensorious and serious contribution to the publisher’s Jewish Lives series. It is the work of a great historian paying careful attention to a great and disquieting writer."--Robert Eaglestone, Times Higher Education Supplement

"Like Kafka’s work, Franz Kafka is dense and provocative. In his exploration of Kafka’s work, Friedländer calls on his rich knowledge of Central Europe during Kafka’s lifetime... A candid and stimulating examination of the forces that shaped Kafka’s anguished life/work."--Maron L. Waxman, Jewish Book Council

“This is a book that springs directly from the author's background and from a manifest love for—and great knowledge of—Kafka's work and his milieu. The book's main objective is to mine the question of Kafka's guilt and shame, and Friedlander is more probing, historical and impartial in examining these questions than just about any other scholar I know.”—Mark Anderson, author of Reading Kafka and Kafka’s Clothes

Saul Friedlander

Saul Friedlander

Saul Friedländer is a renowned historian of the Holocaust and in 2008 won the Pulitzer Prize for the second volume of his influential work The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939–1945. He is Distinguished Emeritus Professor of History and Club 39 Endowed Chair in Holocaust Studies at UCLA. Friedländer was born in Prague and spent his boyhood in Nazi-occupied France. He now lives in Los Angeles.

Hear an interview with author Saul Friedlander speaking about Kafka
Click here to listen to Tom Ashbrook of "On Point" interview Friedlander

Learn about the status of Franz Kafka's papers today
Click here to see the New York Times article