It's the birthday of Franz Kafka, born in Prague (1883). Many of his novels and short stories are about strange and terrible things happening to innocent people. The Trial (1925) begins, "Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning." And The Metamorphosis (1915) begins, "As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect."Kafka thought that a mindless bureaucratic job would be the perfect way to support his writing, but the job he took at an insurance company exhausted him. He had to work 60 hours a week on endless boring tasks. His health began to suffer, and for the rest of his life he was in and out of sanitariums.Kafka's best friend was a sickly, hunchbacked man named Max Brod, who worshiped the ground he walked on. He and Brod hung out at cafes, went to brothels, and attended séances together. Even before anyone had heard of Kafka, Brod wrote articles about him for literary journals, saying that he was a genius and the greatest writer of all time. Kafka didn't entirely agree, and sometimes Brod's enthusiasm made him nervous. Brod kept copies of all of Kafka's writings that he could get his hands on. Near the end of his life, Kafka asked Brod to burn all of his unpublished work. Brod refused to do so, and we have him to thank for preserving Kafka's novels.Franz Kafka wrote, "A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us."
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