Franz Kafka

Born on July 3, 1883, in Prague, capital of what is now the Czech Republic, writer Franz Kafka grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family. After studying law at the University of Prague, he worked in insurance and wrote in the evenings. In 1923, he moved to Berlin to focus on writing, but died of tuberculosis shortly after.

His friend Max Brod published most of his work posthumously, such as The Castle and The Trial, the manuscript for which was discovered in loose chapters on his desk after his death.

Incredibly, at the time of his death Kafka’s name was known only to small group of readers. It was only after he died and Max Brod went against the demands of his friend that Kafka and his work gained fame. His books garnered favor during World War II, especially, and greatly influenced German literature.

As the 1960s took shape and Eastern Europe was under the fist of bureaucratic Communist governments, Kafka’s writing resonated particularly strongly with readers. So alive and vibrant were the tales that Kafka spun about man and faceless organizations that a new term was introduced into the English lexicon: “Kafkaesque.”

The measure of Kafka’s appeal as a writer was quantified for the public in 1988, when his handwritten manuscript of The Trial was sold at auction for nearly $2 million, at that time the highest price ever paid for a modern manuscript.

The buyer, a German book dealer, gushed after his purchase was finalized. “This is perhaps the most important work in 20th-century German literature,” he said, “and Germany had to have it.”

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