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Jewish Journal

Kafka’s Kvitlach

by Jonah Lowenfeld

July 19, 2010 | 7:03 pm

Four safe deposit boxes containing a cache of Jewish writer Franz Kafka’s papers were recently found in a bank in Zurich. A court in Tel Aviv is now trying to decide who owns them.

The boxes, which were opened today, reportedly include a number of manuscripts, including one written in Kafka’s own hand. The Israeli daughters of Kafka’s publisher’s secretary claim that their mother left the boxes to them as part of their inheritance. The State of Israel claims that it should own the contents of the boxes, since Kafka’s publisher, Max Brod, migrated to Israel in 1939 to escape from the Nazis.

Brod had been told by Kafka to burn all of his manuscripts after his death, an instruction that the publisher ignored. Readers have Brod to thank for The Trial, The Castle, and Amerika.

If, among the papers, something worthy of publication is found, Kafka will face stiff competition from other dead scribblers. Roberto Bolaño, David Foster Wallace, and Mark Twain will all have books on the shelves in the coming year.

It’d be hard for them to match the success of Stieg Larsson, the dead Swedish journalist whose Girl With the Dragon Tattoo has been on the paperback bestseller list for over a year, and whose sequels are still selling briskly.

There’s one more deceased writer to keep an eye out for, though: JD Salinger, who died last year, allegedly left behind 15 manuscripts in a safe.

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