Letters to Milena, by Franz Kafka

39719998In no other work does Kafka reveal himself as in the Letters to Milena, which begin essentially as a business correspondence but soon develop into a passionate “letter love.” Milena Jesenská was a gifted and charismatic woman of twenty-three. Kafka’s Czech translator, she was uniquely able to recognize his complex genius and his even more complex character. For the thirty-six-year-old Kafka, she was “a living fire, such as I have never seen.” It was to her that he revealed his most intimate self. It was to her that, after the end of the affair, he entrusted the safekeeping of his diaries. (from Goodreads)

In my crusade to be a better letter writer (?) and because I like reading other people’s letters and diaries (this more likely), I was eager to read this book, which came in a large batch of books given away by a friend of mine. Just to clarify, I haven’t read much of Kafka, other than The Metamorphosis and A report for an Academy, so I had no particular interest in his work and/or biography. I just like reading letters, ok? (why so defensive, though?)

There was an introduction, giving a little of context to this correspondence, and explaining that the letters were “edited” for privacy matters of other parties and whatnot (I believe that later editions of these letters (mine is from 1974) are unedited). You know how I feel about that. I can’t help but wonder What. Am I. Missing?

AND, also, my edition wasn’t translated from the original language, but from a previous English translation. I’m sure both translators did their best job etc etc, but I always get suspicious of accuracy in second hand translations. Sorry about that, translators, I can’t help it. (I have the same feelings when I watch a movie/tv show in a language I don’t manage. I know for a fact how shitty subtitles could be when I’m watching something spoken in English, but I can’t double check when I’m watching something in, like, German or Dutch or Japanese or whatever)

Should one have an opinion about other people’s letters? This was not an epistolary novel, which, one hopes, was written with a literary intention, but and individual correspondence, which could help to understand more about his psyche and his view of the world, and could, perhaps, be of more interest to those who study his life and work.

If anything, this book left me more intrigued about Milena that about Kafka, mostly because we never get to read Milena’s answers. The amount of letters sent, almost daily, for a not so long period of time, make me, on one hand, jealous of the post service between Austria and Czechoslovakia at that time. On the other hand, left me worried about Kafka’s (unhealthy?) obsession with Milena. I do wonder if she replied as often and in such an intense manner as he did.

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