By Nick Johnstone and Nicholas Bagnall
This exhaustively researched biography covers the life of Dora
Diamant (no relation to the American author), an enigmatic, Hebrew-speaking
Polish Jew who fell in love with Franz Kafka in 1923. Soon after,
Kafka, slowly succumbing to tuberculosis, moved with Dora to
Berlin. United by a belief in early Zionist ideas ("It was
Franz's dream to go to Palestine," Dora later noted), the
lovers lived out a fantasy, planning to open a restaurant in
After Kafka's death in 1924, Dora studied acting, joined the
German Communist party and fled Gestapo surveillance for Stalinist
Russia, before finding refuge in Britain during the Holocaust.
As Kafka's posthumously published writings won literary notoriety,
Dora found herself increasingly celebrated by reverent scholars
as "Kafka's wife".
This is very much a Jewish story, one of displacement and punctured
narrative, a literary mystery expertly investigated. NJ
Little was known about Dora Diamant until her namesake started
digging around. Kafka and Dora fell in love just a year before
he died in 1924 and she cherished him in his final illness.
Her diaries bring us an unfamiliar picture of Kafka as a man
of zestful good humour, as well as extraordinary empathy with
others. Dora's own life is almost unbearable to think of.
Persecuted in turn by the Gestapo and the NKVD and declared
an enemy alien by the British, she epitomises the dark side of
20th-century Europe; Kafka himself could hardly have invented
so grim a story. NB
Published in the UK Telegraph, Arts Section, Paperbacks.
© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2004