On what is German about German literature

Navid Kermani in Sign and Sight:

I would like to answer the question of what is German about German literature by speaking about an exemplary German writer. For me, this means not Goethe or Schiller, not Thomas Mann or Bert Brecht, but the Prague Jew Franz Kafka.

Amerika102Kafka? You all know the photograph of the young Kafka, the one that shows him, his face slightly turned, looking with a smile of either uncertainty or mockery at a point just above the photographer’s lens. It is a detail from Kafka’s engagement photograph [shown here on right] with Felice Bauer from the year 1917 and it is the most famous image of the writer, the picture that everyone immediately thinks of, an absolute icon. I remember exactly what went through my head as I took my first steps in Kafka’s universe, I must have been fourteen or fifteen, as I looked at his face on the covers every day: he doesn’t look German. The dark skin, the thick eyebrows over black eyes, the short black hair reaching so far over his forehead as to hide all trace of his temples, the oriental traits. Today, of course, it would not be politically correct to say so, but at the time it was my immediate impression: he didn’t look German, not like the Germans I knew from school, from television, from the German national football team.

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