There really *is* no accounting for reading moods, is there?? On the morning of World Book Day, I was trying to choose my next read and vascillating wildly, faced with any number of books. After rejecting most of the obvious choices in front of me, as well as all of the ones I had leftover from #ReadIndies and all of the possibles I’d featured on the Ramblings, I spotted a small hardback I’d picked up in 2020 and ignored ever since. It was “The Lost Writings” by Franz Kafka (translated by Michael Hofmann), and it turned out to be the perfect choice!

Kafka is, of course, notorious for never actually having finished a book; and he instructed his friend and executor Max Brod to destroy all his works. Fortunately for us, Brod didn’t; however, he *did* tidy up Kafka’s writings for publication, and it’s only in recent years that scholars have begun to put together more definitive versions – but that’s a different story. Anyway, Kafka left behind him a huge amount of short pieces and fragments, which were collected into two volumes of the completed works in German. Some of these have been previously translated, but this volume brings together a selection of works including some which have not made it into English before; and it really does make fascinating reading.

The pieces range in length from a paragraph to several pages, and rarely have a title. Each is notably ‘Kafkaesque’ in theme, featuring characters in odd situations, dealing with strange surroundings or negotiating dream-like terrain. That feeling of claustrophobia, of often being faced with places or people or circumstances beyond our control is present in these short works, and although you have no idea who is narrating them, they’re quite hypnotic to read.

A delicate matter, this tiptoeing across a crumbling board set down as a bridge, nothing underfoot, having to scrape together with your feet the ground you are treading on, walking on nothing but your reflection down in the water below, holding the world together with your feet, your hands cramping at the air to survive this ordeal.

Inevitably, many of the works don’t have a conclusion, ending in a series of ellipses, and that can be tantalising to the reader (“A coffin had been made ready”, a 2 page tale, particularly springs to mind); however, I personally don’t have an issue with fragments or unfinished works (both Edwin Drood and Sanditon are big favourites). There were so many resonances I sensed, in particular (and perhaps unexpectedly) with Italo Calvino – the fragment with the first line of “The city resembles the sun, all its light is concentrated into one dazzling central circle…” particularly struck me as Calvino-esque! Definitely, if you give yourself up to these pieces and allow yourself to be sucked into Kafka’s worlds, the rewards are great; these strange little tales with their surreal settings and characters stay with you and I loved the book!

The collection has been compiled by Reiner Stach, who’s apparently responsible for a highly regarded biography of Kafka (I may have to seek that out…); he provides a fascinating afterword concerning the history of Kafka’s writing; and the translations by Michael Hofmann sound to my ear like other Kafka works I’ve read. “The Lost Writings” are vivid, quirky, individual and strange, the kind of short works which haunt you; highly recommended by me, and another title I would have squeezed into #ReadIndies if I’d had more time. As it is, I’m very glad I got the urge to read this now; and I may now have to search out the recent definitive versions of his well-known works… ;D