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Metamorphoses: In Search of Franz Kafka by Karolina Watroba; Kafka: Making of an Icon by Ritchie Robertson (ed); Diaries of Franz Kafka (translated from German by Ross Benjamin)

When Franz Kafka died on June 3, 1924, he had published only a few collections of short prose, none of which met with much acclaim. Most of the writings for which he is now known and celebrated, such as the novels The lawsuit And The castle, were left unfinished and published posthumously thanks to Kafka’s best friend, Max Brod, who defied Kafka’s instructions to burn the manuscripts. In the 1930s, when English translations of his work first appeared, Kafka became the object of cult-like worship. It was not long before the allegorical and prophetic qualities of his fiction, which seemed to foreshadow the totalitarian horrors of Nazism and Communism, were universally applauded. Despite a few murmurs of dissent – ​​Edmund Wilson, writing in the New Yorker confessed in 1947 that he found it ‘impossible’ to take Kafka seriously; the Prague-born writer’s works quickly acquired canon status. In 1952, Philip Rahv, who introduced a Modern Library edition of Kafka’s stories, felt he could argue that Kafka was “firmly associated in the literary mind with names like Joyce and Proust and Yeats and Rilke and Eliot.”

Of those writers, Kafka is now certainly the most culturally resonant. The word “Kafkaesque” is second only to “Orwellian” as a term used by people who have never read a word by the author who evokes it. You don’t even have to have read much of his work to get the 2009 video, made by the satirical website The Onion. which calls Prague’s fictional Franz Kafka International Airport the world’s most alienating airport (“I asked the ticket person which gate my flight was at,” reports one weary traveler, “and they said the airline I was flying with didn’t exist” ). But how did this happen? How did an insurance salesman who died of tuberculosis at the age of forty become a global literary icon? This is the question explored in two very different new books: Karolina Watroba’s Metamorphoses: in search of Franz Kafka And Kafka: The Making of an Icona collection of essays and images edited by Ritchie Robertson to accompany an exhibition at the Bodleian Library.

To understand how Kafka became Kafka, Watroba, a Polish-born German literary scholar who teaches at Oxford, believes we must look to his readers. Early on, she tells how Sir Malcolm Pasley, the Oxford scholar who won the trust of Kafka’s surviving heirs, moved from Switzerland to