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Customer Review

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A complex life, 25 Jun. 2013
This review is from: Kafka (Paperback)
Much has been written in an attempt to demystify Kafka's symbolic fictions, to submit them to the interrogations of many different disciplines, to use them as a way of understanding our modern anxieties; but what about the writer's life? How to make sense of that for the general reader who might be wary of the subject, given the acknowledged difficulty of 'The Trial', 'The Castle', 'Metamorphosis', 'The Judgement' etc.? One answer is to write a subtle, intelligent, highly readable biography that reveals Kafka the man as much as the writer, indivisible as these two aspects of his being were, and this Murray does with a sure grasp of his subject, with great humanity and skill. He gives us the scholar, the flirt, the insurance expert who held down a desk job for nearly all his working life, the reluctant factory manager, the agonised lover (this to a great extent), the deeply troubled son in conflict with his dominating, dismissive father, the hypochondriac, the artist, the Jew interested in Hebrew literature; he shows how all these melded into the unique, the neurotic, the profound, often tortured, nature of the man. Yet those closest to Kafka found him to be joyous, compassionate, a life-giver; despite his difficulties with family and women, he inspired great love and loyalty.

Murray is good at showing how all the important avenues to his happiness and well-being were blocked: his desire to write in the deep freedom of solitude and silence; to live with a woman who would not stifle his life as a writer (his great fear); to be free from the tedium of the workplace in order to write; to be free of stultifying parents; to be in good health in a body that was never strong, sapped for years by TB... So much thwarted him, not least his vast appetite for self-analysis and self-deprecation; yet, it can be argued, so much of the power of his work came from this damned-up energy, these frustrated desires, was turned into narrative symbols that resonate through modern life.

This is a fine example of the new generation of biographies that eschew the 'tell-it-all-however-trivial' school of the previous generation with their huge, doorstopper works, in favour of the pacey and the condensed, written with the finesse of a fine novel and with the assurance that comes from a deep knowledge of the subject; it is no longer simply an exhaustive record of the life, it is more in the nature of a judicious presentation. For me, now, Kafka is no longer the tortured, mysterious, remote intellectual figure of my imagination, mired in the academic mists of mitteleurope, but a figure who was so much more various than his works and so much more human in his loves, his aversions, his sensitivities, his self-analysis, even in his love for children, a man one can admire in a different way for all his human frailties. It's a work, too, that seems to make Kafka's books much more accessible, more personal, closer to ourselves.
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