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.

A Report for an Academy, by Franz Kafka, and Boule de Suif, by Guy de Maupassant

These two short stories came in the same little book. I was actually just interested in Boule de Suif, so Kafka’s was a bonus. Boule de Suif is a short story I wanted to read for a while, because, apparently, is a must for every naturalism enthusiast as myself. Placed in France right after the end of the French-Prussian war, we found a group of characters that were trying to run away from their town, before the Prussian arrive and take control of it. Those characters are three wealthy marriages, a couple of nuns, a fervent admirer of the Revolution and Boule de Suif, a prostitute, which for the three “respectable” ladies, was quite a scandal and an offense to travel in such company. Boule de Suif came in help of the group in two occasions: the first, when she offered her food to her starving companions, in a journey that was much longer than expected. Everyone was very grateful and seemed to finally came to terms with her presence. When they arrived to the next town, it was already occupied by the Prussians and they’re forced to stay there until Boule de Suif agrees to spend the night with an official. She refuses, being a fervent French patriot and publicly opposed to the Prussians. Her companions don’t understand her point of view. What difference does it make for a prostitute? Well, I’m not going to spoil the end for you, but after I read this story, which present such a complex matter in such a short presentation, I quite understood why is such a classic.

In A Report for an Academy, an ape named Red Peter, who has learned to behave like a human, presents to an academy the story of how he effected his transformation. For me, it was a “meh” reading, I was not really interested in it.