Hopes and doubts over possible Kafka trove in Israel

Fri Jul 11, 2008 1:10pm EDT
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By Alastair Macdonald

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Does the Tel Aviv apartment of a lately deceased centenarian hold a trove of moldering manuscripts that could rewrite our understanding of Franz Kafka?

Or does it hold, at best, the makings of footnotes in future editions of the German-speaking Jewish writer's work?

Generating an air of perplexing, "Kafka-esque" mystery, a Tel Aviv newspaper report this week marking the 125th anniversary of Kafka's birth has sparked a flurry of speculation among literary scholars and archivists in Israel and in Europe.

Leading experts said on Friday they did not expect material to emerge that would prompt major revisions. But diaries and other papers left by Kafka's friend and biographer Max Brod, whose late secretary owned the apartment, could shed new light on Kafka's life and times in Prague before he died in 1924.

The intrigue is all the greater because of the history of how Kafka's writings were saved from obscurity -- Brod defied his friend's dying wish that his unpublished work be destroyed and later fled Nazi Europe with a suitcase full of papers.

"It's very difficult to know what might be in her flat," said Ritchie Robertson, the professor of German at Oxford University, which holds the bulk of Kafka's known manuscripts.

"But my own suspicion would be that there would be nothing of any significance by Kafka," he said. Any of Brod's papers could nonetheless be interesting, he added, not least as they might give a different view of Kafka from the "saintly" figure that emerged from Brod's 1937 biography of his friend.

The two daughters of Brod's secretary Esther Hoffe, who died last year at 101, inherited the flat but have yet to grant access to any possible documents, Israel's Haaretz newspaper said this week, quoting Israeli scholars and officials.   Continued...