Jan Mieszkowski at Public Books:
The prospect of a new Kafka biography is like an invitation to a party that is bound to be entertaining but may end badly. Situating Kafka’s writing within the cultural and political landscape of European modernism and the late Austro-Hungarian Empire is a worthy, if daunting, endeavor. Less certain is whether such efforts to contextualize his corpus actually garner insights into it. Kafka’s readers are intrigued by virtually any anecdote about him, but few would allow that the abiding mysteries of his texts will be resolved by learning that he lived in Prague, was the son of a fancy goods merchant, and enjoyed going to the beach. Nor does history provide a reliable key to unlock his works, which have dates but do not date. If they are decidedly not a product of our time, there appears to be little chance of them ever going out of style.
Although Kafka’s importance is incontestable, scholars and casual fans alike fiercely debate every feature of his corpus. Each plot twist or curious turn of phrase calls for clarification, yet customary interpretive practices are seldom up to the task. To read Kafka is to lurch back and forth between the uncannily familiar and the abjectly foreign. To reread a favorite story is to risk seeing any exegetical progress made the first, second, or third time through evaporate. Given these challenges, learning more about Kafka’s life may be a good opportunity to win new perspectives on his writing, but it may also be the furthest thing from it.