Study Guide

A Friend of Kafka

by Isaac Bashevis Singer

A Friend of Kafka Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Jacques Kohn repeatedly borrows money from the narrator, who willingly lends it to him because he wants Kohn’s friendship. Although Kohn was once an important actor, the narrator values him more for his literary and cultural associations. Supposedly, Kohn was the first to recognize Franz Kafka’s talent, and he has corresponded with other important figures: Marc Chagall, Stefan Zweig, and Martin Buber. As the narrator’s cultural guide, Kohn shows him his letters and photographs, and he even arranges for him to meet Madam Tschissik, with whom Kohn performed and whom Kafka allegedly loved.

For the narrator, then, Kohn is an important link to European art and literature. For Kohn, the narrator is not only a source of money but also an audience, to whom he recounts the adventures of his younger days, such as taking Kafka to a brothel or attending an orgy with a number of writers, including the decayed writer Bamberg. As these examples indicate, Kohn’s stories often are sexual, even though he is now impotent and claims that he does not find women attractive.

He does, however, have another encounter with a woman. One winter night he hears a banging at his door and the sound of a woman crying. The woman, a widowed countess, pleads with Kohn to let her hide in his apartment until morning; she has been visiting her lover in Kohn’s building, but the man attempted to kill her in a fit of jealousy. Kohn points out that his apartment is unheated and that he can offer scant protection should her lover follow her and find them together.

Waving aside all objections, she insists on remaining with Kohn and even on sleeping with him. To his surprise, he is able to make love to her; the next morning, before she leaves, she kisses him and urges him to call her. Their relationship has continued, but Kohn has never tried to sleep with her again. He agrees with the Talmudic saying, “A miracle doesn’t happen every day.”