Franz Kafka's story is well known, Dora Diamant's is not. She
was, as the title states, his "last love," and the author
(no relation), director of the Kafka Project at San Diego State
University, has assiduously tracked the traces of her subjects
through personal recollections, private papers and newly opened
archives in the former Soviet bloc.
Dora (1898 - 1952) and Kafka first met at a Baltic resort, and
she was instantly captivated by his intelligence and deep sensitivity.
Kafka in turn was swept away by the vivacious 25-year-old Polish-born
Jew, who had fled her Orthodox family for the broader intellectual
currents of Weimar Germany. But Yiddish was her first language
and she knew Jewish traditions, and Kafka found her a beacon for
the religion his own family had rejected.
The author describes at great length the one year the lovers
lived together in Berlin, but more interesting is the account
of Dora and her larger family history after Kafka's painful death
in 1924. Here was a woman intent on keeping Kafka's flame alive,
who was forced by war and political upheaval to flee from one
country after another. Many relatives died in the Holocaust. Her
treasured possessions, Kafka's last diaries, were seized by the
Gestapo and have never been found.
For 15 years her husband, having served time in Nazi prisons
and the Soviet gulag, lived in East Berlin, unaware that Dora
and their daughter had survived the war. The remarkable story
continues in Moscow, London, San Francisco and Tel Aviv, the far-flung
points of dispersal of a family caught in the maelstroms of fascism,
communism and the Holocaust.