Author: Reiner Stach; translated by Shelley Frisch

Publisher: Princeton University Press

ISBN: 9780691151984

Shelley Frisch’s translation of Reiner Stach’s Kafka―Die frühen Jahre, the third work in an award-winning Kafka biographical series, into English as Kafka: The Early Years (1883―1910) is as intriguing and powerful as the previous two volumes in the same series, Kafka: The Decisive Years (covering the period from 1910 to 1915, which saw the renowned author of both novels and short stories dedicating himself to the intense writing of his most seminal works) and Kafka:

The Years of Insight (covering the final years of the writer’s life, from 1916 to 1924, during which time many of his most deeply held beliefs were challenged and, in some cases, upturned). Not only is Frisch’s command of both the German and English languages fluent and irreproachable, but her sensitivity to the nuances of both the source and the target language have once again enabled her to produce a fluent and witty text that does both her and Stach proud.

The importance of Stach’s original text lies in it being the first decisive exposition of the life and times of a writer who incisively impelled the literary world into an era of dynamic expressiveness that came to embody the core works that served as the wellsprings of all twentieth-century literature. The comprehensiveness and solidity of Stach’s penmanship and research can be attributed to his lifelong interest in the work of this titan of the modern-day world, who succeeded in bringing about radical change in the conceptualization of current-day philosophy and thought.

Compelled by his awareness that, despite there being numerous biographies of Kafka, no definitive one had yet emerged, Stach set about writing one such text that might, indeed, serve such a purpose. In his awareness that “[n]o intellectual biography that is situated in the Bohemian metropolis is comprehensible without the history of this city [i.e. Prague] and the surrounding region”, his biographical trilogy took the shape of an exploration not only of Kafka’s own life and work, but also of the evolving ethos of the time, continuously zooming in on the particularities of the idiosyncratic author, and then out again so that the former’s development could be seen within the context of a wider perspective on the contributing cultural and societal influences that impacted on his personal evolution.

The somewhat odd sequence of the volumes, with the one on his childhood and burgeoning years coming last, is due to legal problems that were encountered in accessing the source material. However, with the publication of the final volume in the series, a total picture of Kafka has emerged that was not previously available. Now, thanks to Frisch’s fine translation, the entire series has become accessible to English speakers for the very first time.

The international acclaim that Frisch has already acquired for her two previous translations in the above-mentioned series stands to be repeated in the case of the present volume. Not only is the scope of the series well-nigh unprecedented in literary circles, but the ease and readability of the translation should make it an essential read for any scholar with pretensions to have a grasp on the so-called “modern era.”