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Jul/Aug 2017 Reviews & Interviews

The Lost Pages

The Lost Pages
Marija Pericic.
Faber. 2017. 235 pp.
ISBN 978 0 571 32855 0.

Review by Ann Skea


The Lost Pages is the 2017 winner of the prestigious Australian Vogel's Literary Award. It is an innovative, imaginative, and well-written novel based on the real friendship of Franz Kafka and his fellow writer and contemporary Max Brod.

It was to Brod that Kafka left all his writings, with instructions to burn them when he died. Brod, of course, did no such thing, and it was due to him and his belief that Kafka's writings held hidden Zionist messages that Kafka and his work eventually became more famous and more widely-known than Brod himself.

Due to complicated legal proceedings over the ownership of Kafka's papers, this great archive has never yet been seen. It is known, however, to contain Brod's own diaries, in which his friendship with Kafka is documented.

In The Lost Pages, Marija Pericic, inspired by the complex and bizarre story of Kafka's papers, as told in a 2010 New York Times article, "Kafka's Lost Papers" by Elif Batuman, has invented Max Brod's memoirs. There, Max writes in detail of his difficult relationship with the elusive Kafka, who never seems to be where he is meant to be, whose success threatens to surpass Max's own, and who becomes, in Max's eyes, his rival in love as well as in his work.

This is an ingeniously contrived novel, but sadly for me, the Max Brod revealed in these pages is a depressing, depressed, self-focussed, and unsympathetic character with whom I soon lost patience. However, I did continue reading, and the final dramatic chapters of the book do explain his obsessions and delusions, and it becomes clear these character traits are essential to the outcome, and that this has been hinted at and prepared for throughout the book.

Whether Franz Kafka and Max Brod were anything like their namesakes as depicted in The Lost Pages is impossible to tell, but Marija Pericic's extensive research suggests to her that Kafka was far less bleak a character than is usually supposed, and that Brod, who was born with a physical disability, may well have resented Kafka's success when it began to eclipse his own.

Brod was a successful and popular writer and composer. He acted as promoter and editor of Kafka's work during his life and, as his literary executor, after his death. In fact, there seems always to have been a complex relationship between Kafka's and Brod's work, and it is possible the archive papers will reveal much more about Brod's influence on Kafka's novels. It is this closeness that Marija Pericic has cleverly and inventively exploited in The Lost Pages.

 

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