Under Kafka’s Skin


The German literary historian Reiner Stach has become so interested in the life and work of Franz Kafka that he published a three-part biography about the writer. This truly exceptional work amounts to two thousand pages.

"The impulse for writing Kafka's biography hadn't come from a single sentence or a moment, but rather from his peculiar image. He was essentially a humourless introvert and I became so interested in him that I wanted to further study both him and his life," Reiner Stach explained the origins of the idea to write such an extensive book on the life of a single man. However interesting Kafka might be, a book of two thousand pages is, without exaggeration, a monumental achievement. "I started delving deeper and deeper into his life and I wanted to know more and more. 

One of the things often said about Kafka was that he was only interested in himself, that he didn't even care about politics, and I wanted to know whether this was true or not." To answer his questions, Reiner Stach did not simply rely on sources at hand - he studied Kafka's life in the greatest detail possible. He wanted to have each sentence documented - a proof that Kafka really said it. He would settle for no figments of imagination or speculations. "If a dialogue appears in the book, you can be assured that I didn't simply invent it - I know for sure that it happened just like that. If I say that at a certain moment Kafka walked over to the window and that it was raining outside, you can be sure that this is the way it really happened. I based everything on fact," he explained. "In my computer you would see in excess of a thousand essays about Kafka, hundreds of expert articles, old German and Czech newspapers, things that you would not find on the internet." No wonder this meticulous work has taken eighteen long years to complete, during which three volumes were published about Kafka's life called The Early Years, The Decisive Years, and The Years of Realization. "I must admit I didn't want to part with the project. I had a fixed daily ritual of writing and then, when I finally submitted all the two thousand pages, all of sudden I thought: what am I going to do now? But then I received a call from people interested in adapting the book into a film, I started getting invitations to schools, so I am definitely not bored," Reiner Stach concluded the meeting.