Guess what? I learned something today. Kafka was German.
This stunning revelation came about when I was having a very pleasant conversation with one of my patients. I noticed he had Dr as his title and asked if he was a GP. Well, he looked like one. No, he replied, he had a PhD. " Ah, a real doctor" I said and we both had a good laugh. Few things needle a medical doctor more than pointing out that they aren't real doctors. It turned out that he was a doctor of German Literature. Well, as you know, I do like a good read and I pressed him for more information. We had a chat about why German literature has such a low profile as opposed to English or Russian. He felt that a lot of it was due to the whole guilt/World War 2/mass horror/warmongering image that Germany had. I told him that I didn't know any German authors. "Have you heard of Kafka?" he asked. Well yes, but I thought he was Russian. He told me that Kafka was a German Jew who lived in Prague but wrote all of his books in German. We went on to have a nice conversation about Metamorphosis and I asked if he could recommend a good German novel. Without hesitation he told me to look for Tin Drum by Gunter Grass. I popped into a bookshop on the way home. "Ah, Gunter Grass." confirmed the man in the bookshop. "Possibly my favourite book ever. The film is really good but it's not a patch on the book. No. Out of stock. Has been for ages." Super. He's ordering a copy for me and it should arrive from the US in 3 weeks.
Strangely enough, I was having another pleasant conversation with another patient later in the day. She was a German teacher and told me that Kafka was Czech but did indeed write all of his books in German. I came home and checked my own battered copy of Metamorphosis and Other Stories. Turns out he was Czech after all.
So, the Germans have claimed Kafka, son of a Czech Jew as their own. That's just the sort of thing that Australia does all the time. Aussie Joe Bugner, anyone? And Britain has done it too. Zola Budd, the barefoot South African runner whose great granny spent a weekend in Worthing during the summer of 1862. Okay, it wasn't that but it was some sort of tenuous link. She got a British passport in record time to enable her to run for Great Britain in the Olympics and what did she do? Tripped over a Yank, jogged in last to the boos of the crowd, got disqualified and never ran again. Actually, did you know that she didn't trip Mary Decker? The footage proved it and she was reinstated but the legend stands.
Where was I? I really do have the attention span of a three year old at times. Oh yes, Kafka. Read Metamorphosis. It's really quite good.
I did a bit of Googling and it turns out that Prague belonged to Austria when Kafka was born. You just have to love those mobile European borders.