Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Work, work, work I’m catching up on work I couldn’t do while I was ill, and household chores, and community responsibilities. Being sober sometimes means just getting on with whatever has to be done.
While having a cup of my cardamom chai, I am reading all about the furore over secret unpublished writings by Franz Kafka once stuffed away into Max Brod’s suitcase. A Prague literary figure, Max Brod was the most treacherous best friend any writer could have, and everyone who loves literature is grateful to him for his treachery.
On his deathbed, the writer Franz Kafka, aged 40, asked his best friend Max to destroy all his unpublished writings and letters. Max promised he would do so. It was 1924 and, like many undernourished and tubercular Europeans of that generation, Kafka died an agonising death in a Viennese sanatorium. His younger sisters would go on to die in Holocaust concentrations camps.
Max Brod destroyed nothing and went on to publish The Trial, Amerika and The Castle, novels that would become major classics of 20th-century literature. In 1939 Brod escaped to Israel with his cache of Kafka’s works and sold one or two original manuscripts. On his death in 1968, he left the Kafka works and papers to his secretary, friend and possibly mistress, Esther Hoffe, who died three years ago at the age of 101. She in turn left the Kafka stash to her daughters Eva and Ruth.
The court of Israel has determined that these manuscripts are now the property of the state and may need to be preserved for posterity by the state because of their literary merit. Eva Hoffe continues to protest but amongst the documents in opened vaults there is an unpublished short story by Kafka. His genius lives on.
Bad friend Max was not the only person Kafka asked to destroy his work — he also asked his young lover Dora Diamant to burn 20 of his notebooks. She did not do so and kept them with her in Berlin until 1933, when they were confiscated by the Nazis and never seen again. The largest collection of Kafka’s letters were those written to his earlier fiancee Felice Bauer, a hardheaded businesswoman who took the letters with her when she fled to America, and sold them to a publisher in the 1950s as Kafka’s fame was on the increase.
The moral of the story being that writers should burn their own manuscripts and friends should not set a lighted match to any unpublished works of genius. Jane Austen burned most of her own papers and letters and I can’t help wishing she had given them to an absentminded clergyman who might have stuffed them away in the attic.
Back to work! I resist the temptation to read about more rhino poaching in South African game reserves, the destruction of global rainforests, the disappearance of the English cuckoo, the adorable baby Asian clouded leopards pictured in a Paris zoo or images or Kalahari wildlife by Hannes Lochner Life is too short not to earn a living. And tomorrow is Saturday and I shall go out to lunch with friends and play, have fun, make the most of sober opportunities.