Bookshots: 'Forgiving the Angel: Four Stories for Franz Kafka' by Jay Cantor

Bookshots: 'Forgiving the Angel: Four Stories for Franz Kafka' by Jay Cantor

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review

Title:

Forgiving the Angel: Four Stories for Franz Kafka

Who wrote it?

A moving and innovative read. It will be enjoyed by devotees of Kafka’s work, as well as those interested in giving it a closer look.

Jay Cantor, award-winning novelist who also wrote The Death of Che Guevara

Plot in a Box:

Four fictionalized accounts of real-life people who loved Kafka, loathed Kafka, or struggled to escape the shadow of his legacy.

Invent a new title for this book:

Wrestling with Kafka

Read this if you liked:

Kafka’s Last Love: The Mystery of Dora Diamant by Kathi Diamant, The Complete Stories of Franz Kafka, The Stranger by Albert Camus

Meet the book’s lead:

Dora Diamant, Kafka’s last lover, carries her adoration of him throughout her life, the war and marriage to another man.

Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:

Monica Bellucci, not in the least because she appeared in The Matrix Reloaded. Do you think Kafka would have been a fan of that trilogy?

Setting:

While I wouldn't have wanted to live in Europe under Stalin and Hitler (who would?), the labyrinthine and surreal mind of Kafka definitely would be a nice place to spend some time. Some.

What was your favorite sentence?

 It occurs to me that I’m not like other people, though I pretend to be. Of course, that I can pretend shows that I am very much like other people, for that is no doubt what they are doing too.

The Verdict:

According to Forgiving the Angel, Kafka, one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, thought of himself as only “a nearly nameless sailor, who…had simply held to his desk all night. His only skill…was to cling to the wood with sufficient desperation.” Likewise, the main characters in Cantor’s four, loosely connected stories either cling to Kafka’s legacy or struggle to escape its chokehold on their lives.

In the title story, Max Brod, Kafka’s lifelong friend, discovers a terrible betrayal against him within Kafka’s dying wish. "A Lost Story" follows an academic who discovers an unpublished parable of Kafka’s—or is the academic a part of the story himself? In "Lusk and Marianne", a militant communist falls for and marries Dora Diamant, only to discover that she’ll never love him the way she does her late, famous love. Proof? She names the daughter she has with Lusk "Franziska". Finally,"Milena Jasinska and The World the Camps Made" introduces us to another of Kafka’s lovers as she finds passion and hope in a notorious concentration camp for women.

Discussing a book like this is tricky as all short stories, even the ones by Kafka himself, are not created equal. The title story paints a gripping portrait of friendship and the dark side of an artist many thought of as an “angel”. "A Lost Story", however, read to me more like a writing exercise lacking in urgency and need. In "Lusk and Marianne", the former’s fight to reclaim his daughter from Kafka’s ghost is matched in poignancy by his blind loyalty to the Communist Party that imprisons him as their enemy. Meanwhile, in "Milena…" the love story between the two female prisoners is touching, however the connection to Kafka seems a bit forced, his presence superfluous.

That being said, Forgiving the AngeI is on the whole a moving and innovative read. It will be enjoyed by devotees of Kafka’s work, as well as those interested in giving it a closer look.

Speaking of which, to the uninitiated, which work of Kafka’s would you recommend they read first?

Image of Forgiving the Angel: Four Stories for Franz Kafka
Author: Jay Cantor
Price: $21.29
Publisher: Knopf (2014)
Binding: Hardcover, 209 pages
Naturi Thomas-Millard

Review by Naturi Thomas-Millard

Naturi is the author of How to Die in Paris: A Memoir (2011, Seal Press/Perseus Books) She's published fiction, non-fiction and poetry in magazines such as Barrow St. and Children, Churches and Daddies. At Sherri Rosen Publicity Int'l, she works as an editor and book doctor. Originally from NYC, she now lives in a village in England which appears to have more sheep than people. This will make starting a book club slightly challenging.

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