Letters to Friends, Family, and Editors
The appearance of this book is an important publishing event, bringing to completion the translated letters of Franz Kafka, except those to his sister Ottla. The milestones in this undertaking are the Letters to Milena (1953), the Letter to His Father (1966), and the Letters to Felice (1973). The correspondence, of course, complements the publication of Kafka’s works in English translation, including the diaries, so that very nearly all of his output—literary works, diaries, and letters—is now accessible to those unable to read the original language. Nor, except to specialists, is reference to the original language absolutely necessary: Kafka’s influence in the non-German-speaking countries began in the 1930’s and has steadily continued since then. Although it is true that no translation can retain the inherent nuances and shades of meaning of the original text, literate persons everywhere, scholars among them, first become acquainted with “great authors” through translations. Although certainly the best approach to an author is to read his works in their original language, this does not mean that a reader loses critically through an accurate and sensitive translation: Dante became known in America through the English of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The several merits of Letters to Friends, Family, and Editors include just this: Richard and Clara Winston have outstandingly performed the task of rendering into colloquial and idiomatic English the 1958 edition by Max Brod of Kafka’s correspondence, including some letters not in that text (see the Preface).
A spot comparison of the translation with the original language shows that the Winstons have closely adhered to the sense of Kafka’s German, and that their English idiom is at once extensive and precise enough to lend accurate expression to German locutions. The English-speaking reader, therefore, ignorant of German, can gain practically as much from the...
(The entire section is 805 words.)