Forgiving The Angel: Four Stories For Franz Kafka by Jay CantorForgiving The Angel: Four Stories For Franz Kafka by Jay Cantor

Forgiving The Angel: Four Stories For Franz Kafka

byJay Cantor

Paperback | November 18, 2014

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A thought-provoking, sometimes heartbreaking sequence of stories based on a group of real people held together by their love of Franz Kafka. Here friends, fans, and lovers find themselves haunted by the death of the great author. Imbued with a gravitas and dark irony that recall Kafka’s own work, these stories nonetheless also bear the singular imaginary stamp and the keen psychological and emotional insight that have marked all of Jay Cantor’s writing.

Jay Cantor is the author of three novels, The Death of Che Guevara, Krazy Kat, and Great Neck, and two books of essays, The Space Between and On Giving Birth to One’s Own Mother. A MacArthur Fellow, Cantor teaches at Tufts University and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his wife and daughter.
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Title:Forgiving The Angel: Four Stories For Franz KafkaFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:224 pages, 7.98 × 5.13 × 0.65 inShipping dimensions:7.98 × 5.13 × 0.65 inPublished:November 18, 2014Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0345806042

ISBN - 13:9780345806048

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Read from the Book

1More than once, Franz Kafka told his close friend and literary executor, Max Brod, that when Kafka died, Brod was to burn all his unpublished manuscripts. Brod, though, disobeyed his friend’s instructions, and not long after Kafka’s death, he arranged for the publication of Kafka’s abandoned novels, and then, over time, his stories, parables, and even his diaries and letters.The things of Kafka’s that Brod had never published are now in safe-deposit boxes in Jerusalem and Zurich, and will remain there until a court decides who owns them. At dispute is whether Brod left the papers to his secretary, Esther Hoffe, as an executor who was to carry out Brod’s wish that they be conveyed to the Israeli National Library—if that was his wish—or if he left them as her property, which she could sell, if she wanted, to whoever might pay the most, even to a library of the German nation.In the Jerusalem courtroom, lawyers speaking on behalf of Esther Hoffe’s daughters (who have inherited the papers from their mother, if, that is, they have, indeed, inherited them) have argued that no one should open the boxes before their ownership is determined, or even for a time afterward. They propose to sell the manuscripts unseen—if there are manuscripts in the boxes. “If we get an agreement, the material will be offered for sale as a single entity, in one package. It will be sold by weight. . . . There’s a kilogram of papers here.” The material might be new stories, diaries, or minor things altogether (for Brod prized every scrap by Kafka, even the notes from when Kafka was so sick he could not speak, was perhaps no longer making sense, and wrote things like a top hat made of water.)“The highest bidder,” the lawyers said, “will then be able to open the boxes and see what’s there. The National Library can get in line and make an offer, too.”Absurd perhaps, though as we’ll see, that’s not altogether the fault of the lawyers. But to tell you how the papers came to be in sealed boxes that are to be sold by weight, I must tell you a story.2That story begins in Berlin in 1923, less than a year before Kafka’s death, with a visit from Max Brod. Kafka, who had once complained that life was a train trip toward death that had far too many intervening stops for his taste, now would embrace a doctor if he said Kafka was looking a little better.They’d had news like that recently. Kafka told Brod confidently that when the tuberculosis receded a little more, and he became “transportable,” he and Dora Diamant, the woman he lived with in Berlin, would move to Palestine. In Tel Aviv, they’d open a restaurant where Kafka would be the waiter, Dora the cook. Kafka had put a white towel over his arm, and smiled with a combination of servility and the servant’s mean-spirited cunning. He looked, Brod thought, a little ridiculous, but that was never something that seemed to bother Franz.“I suggest you order our soup,” Dora said.“Particularly tasty?” Brod said.“No, fortunately for you, we have no soup today. You see, our waiter is very likely to spill any bowls we trust him with.”“Which is why they never give me any, even empty ones,” Kafka said. “The ghosts might fill them on the way to your table, and I would certainly pour the contents on your clothes when I cough.”Kafka and Dora laughed and looked toward Max expectantly. Like lovers everywhere, they took so much pleasure in each other that they couldn’t imagine one wouldn’t join them.Like lovers everywhere? Milena had once written Brod that “Franz has a fear of everything that’s shamelessly alive,” yet Franz wasn’t afraid of Dora. Kafka had broken his engagement with Felice because when one writes even night isn’t night enough, one requires the loneliness of the grave. Yet he’d written new stories in this small apartment while Dora sewed on the couch nearby.An impresario might sell tickets to the spectacle: Franz Kafka in Love, the writer free of his father and the claws of Prague, and living with a woman who was seemingly at ease in her body.But like the restaurant, it might only be a show. After all, how could Dora feel easy in Berlin? She’d run here from her Hasidic family, and her father had sat shiva over her. And why had she come here? So she could study her father’s Judaism. How could a woman be so buoyant, if she revered what restricted and even despised her?But she was. She’d even made Kafka avid to know more of his Judaism, and of her Hasidism, who believed (Franz had written him) that even the driest, most seemingly irrational mitzvah, if performed with the right intention, could open the gates of heaven. “Of course, all we poor people have now are the stories about those who had the right intention. Sometimes, though, the rabbis believe that if the story is told with the right intention, it suffices.”“So the tales of the wonder-working rabbis,” Brod had replied, “are like . . . like something by Franz Kafka.” Brod should have added: or they would be, if the Hasid imagined that men’s intentions (or was it God’s own?) were always hopelessly divided, and that even a story always came too early or too late.Dora had brought the East to Kafka, and Franz the West to her, all its culture and literature. Yet at the same time, she’d decided (not wrongly, Brod thought, but on slender evidence on her part) that Franz was himself a new Master of the Good Name. The first Baal Shem, though, had a manual of what acts would knit body and soul together—the Talmud—while her lover’s might fly apart at any moment if he didn’t find the right stories to reknit things.That afternoon, Brod had left them to go visit his pretty Berlin mistress. As he walked down the stairs, he heard them laughing again, companionably, not the least bit maliciously. He felt a chill at the sound. Max was a short man with an enormous head and a hunched back; he wore thick glasses on a prominent nose; he was far less handsome than Kafka (despite Franz’s somewhat prominent ears). Until today, though, they had both thought Max was much the more successful with women (if success meant endless entanglement). Max felt he’d given Kafka hope by being a misshapen man who still could trust and take pleasure in life. With Dora, Kafka, for the time—and may it be a long one—had both. Franz no longer needed Max.3Or perhaps he only didn’t need him to enact romance for him; fortunately for Max, he still had other uses. Brod had already published thirty-seven books of his own, knew editors at all the German-language publishers, journals, and newspapers. Kafka, who Brod usually had to beg and cajole to publish anything, now grasped eagerly at Brod’s help in placing his work. Franz had only a small pension from his job at the Accident Insurance Bureau, and needed to earn money to support himself and Dora.When Brod came to Berlin for his second visit, Kafka had been, in a familiar gesture, leaning against the wall, each (Kafka had once said) holding the other one up. His tailored suit hung him as if he were—“I know,” he said, reading Max’s mind. “I look like a walking stick for a giant.”Kafka, over 1.8 meters tall, weighed 53 kilos. And even if Franz were paid in crowns for his story, it would only be enough for a few days food, or one visit from a mediocre doctor—if, that is, they managed to spend the notes quickly enough after they converted the crowns to marks. Prices would double even as they took ten steps away from the bank. Franz, Brod thought, might be killed by tuberculosis, but it would be a murder, too, one perpetrated by the War, and the vengeance it had brought on Germany.“But Max, you worry about me too much. I’ve put on fifty grams already this week. My sister sent me a package of Prague butter, and Dora made me the most remarkable meal with it—and on nothing but that spirit lamp.”Dora was bent over that “stove” now, making coffee for them. Kafka looked fondly toward her, and she, as if she could feel his eyes on her, gazed back toward him for a moment with a singleness of concentration that made Brod understand what it meant to be the apple of someone’s eye. This made him say, “Oh, why couldn’t the Hunger Artist also find something he liked to eat”—that being the story whose galleys he held in his hands. Brod was thinking not of the Prague butter, of course, but the greater miracle, the round-faced woman from Poland.“Ah, but the Hunger Artist’s career would already have made him more of an outcast than those American performers who bite the heads off poultry,” Franz said, immediately, as if he’d already considered this possibility. “Once he started eating, no one would give him another job, and no one would be willing to teach him a new skill. He’d soon be a Hunger Artist again, malgré lui.”“Which makes his situation,” Dora said, her back to them both again, “like any man who has nothing to sell but his labor. Prices go up, wages go down, and the food he can afford soon brings less new strength than he used getting the money to pay for his food.” Dora had fled to Berlin to read Talmud for herself but had encountered socialism along the way. She didn’t sound doctrinaire, though, but musing, like someone testing the reality of a formula for herself.At her words Kafka’s eyes widened, and his face took on another kind of sadness. He’d seen the spark inside Dora, one that, like the tuberculosis bacillus, might also burst into a flame and consume her life. It was as if, Brod thought (years later and under his own sky), Franz had seen her life in the KDP, her flight to the Soviet Union and then away from it, seen that not in its terrifying particulars, of course, but like a broad shadow passing over the earth.“You know,” Franz said to Brod, “you must eventually burn the story you’re holding in your hand.”“That’s beyond my powers,” Brod said. “What I hold are proof sheets of the story for you to correct. This story’s about to be published.”“You’re right, of course. Now, let’s hope that to mock my wish, the Malevolent doesn’t set to work destroying Europe’s libraries.”“Or its readers,” Dora added, having learned from a master.“The demons don’t need an excuse to destroy,” Brod said. “Best, though, that your work is here to sustain us when they do appear.” At that, he wondered (and not for the first time) why he’d never envied Franz his genius. Perhaps because to write like Franz Kafka, one would have to be Franz Kafka, and that hadn’t been bearable for anyone, even Franz Kafka. Until now, that is.“Still,” Kafka said, “you must do your part and burn my remaining papers.”Brod looked to Dora for help. “He isn’t appointing me his literary executor,” he said, “but his literary executioner.” Max knew he was perhaps too pleased with the cleverness of this, but his cry was heartfelt as well.Dora, however, nodded her agreement with Franz. She didn’t know what priceless things they were talking about, as she hadn’t read a whit of Kafka’s writing before he met her. All botched, he’d said, and though she didn’t believe that, she didn’t seek his work out, either; she had his presence, and didn’t need to possess his past. “He believes that burning the papers will keep the ghosts from coming after him anymore.”Brod knew this was insane, and yet such was his belief in Franz’s intuitions about the manifold and hidden connections of things that he also worried that Franz might be right. After he left that day, Brod planned to consult a psychoanalyst about himself, and then see the demanding mistress who was the reason he needed the doctor. He wondered what a therapist who had studied with Kafka would be like. Perhaps you would tell him a dream and, as in a fairy tale, he would hand you a lizard. Or clip your nails.“Make Dora your executor,” he said, annoyed with them both, but not meaning it, as, after all, she might burn Franz’s work.“No. She loves me differently than you, Max. You’re the person to do this for me.”In the meantime, Dora had finished her conjuring over the spirit lamp. She offered Franz a cup, and held out a glass to Brod.The coffee tasted bitter, but it had been made by a woman who was unambivalently in love. What powers might such a potion have?

Editorial Reviews

“Ingeniously unified and admirably purposeful. . . . Cantor’s fiction is a worthy homage to Kafka.” —The New York Times Book Review “Provocative. . . . Evocative, ambitious. . . . Cantor creates gripping stories.” —Slate“Offbeat and psychologically incisive storytelling.” —The New Yorker  “A fascinating blend of fact and fiction.” —The Richmond Times-Dispatch “Cantor’s stories honor Kafka’s legacy.” —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel