Nicole Krauss’s love letter to (an imagined) Kafka
A breathtaking novel that bleeds existential urgency from every page
At the heart of this tale is a compelling fantasy: What if Franz Kafka staged his own death, assumed a new name, and emigrated to Israel, living in obscurity on a kibbutz for 15 years before dying in Tel Aviv at the ripe age of 69?
What if, indeed? The implications of this fantasy for the Kafkan universe—and by extension, for the universe Nicole Krauss creates in this breathtaking odyssey of convergence, transformation, and restoration—are startling. They upend the trope of deferral Kafka’s readers have come to associate with him and open the possibility of fulfillment in Kafka’s world. But it’s a fulfillment couched in another sort of exile—from all vestiges of self, including name, home, and family.
Across a sprawling landscape, from contemporary New York to Kafka’s Prague to Tel Aviv, Krauss charts the paths of two characters. Jules Epstein is a 68-year-old lawyer who disappears and dissociates from his life and possessions. A 39-year-old novelist named Nicole, possibly Krauss’s avatar, is in the midst of an existential crisis when she is presented with the strange assignment “to shape, through fiction, the story of Kafka’s afterlife in Israel.”