A Hesitation Before Birth (Magill's Literary Annual 1990)
The first biography of Franz Kafka was written by his close friend Max Brod, who was responsible for the posthumous publication of many of Kafka’s works. Brod’s book appeared in English translation as Franz Kafka: A Biography (1947, 1960). While the critical literature on Kafka continued to grow at an astonishing rate, not until Ronald Hayman’s K: A Biography (1981; published in the United States as Kafka: A Biography, 1982) was there another Kafka biography in English. Hayman’s book was quickly followed by Ernst Pawel’s The Nightmare of Reason: A Life of Franz Kafka (1984). Now there is Peter Mailloux’s A Hesitation Before Birth: The Life of Franz Kafka, the third Kafka biography in less than a decade (and the longest of the three, by a good margin). Is Mailloux’s effort merely redundant, then? Not at all—nor should it (to cover the opposite extreme) be saddled with that label so often applied to big biographies: “definitive.”
Writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education (January 10, 1990), Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, who has published well- received biographies of Hannah Arendt (1982) and Anna Freud (1988), complains that the biographer’s art is insufficiently understood and appreciated. Reviewers of biographies, she observes, typically confine themselves to summarizing the subject’s life story and “rendering judgments” on the quality of his or her experience, paying little or...
(The entire section is 1569 words.)
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