Department of Literary Litigation


As Franz Kafka's unpublished papers awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, they found themselves transformed into a gigantic legal battle. The Associated Press reports:

The case boils down to the interpretation of the will of Max Brod, Kafka's longtime friend and publisher. Kafka bequeathed his writings to Brod shortly before his own death from tuberculosis in 1924, instructing his friend to burn everything unread.

Brod ignored Kafka's wishes and published most of what was in his possession, including the novels "The Trial," "The Castle" and "Amerika."

But Brod, who smuggled some of the manuscripts to pre-state Israel when he fled the Nazis in 1938, didn't publish everything. Upon his death in 1968, Brod left his personal secretary, Esther Hoffe, in charge of his literary estate and instructed her to transfer the Kafka papers to an academic institution.

Instead, for the next four decades, Hoffe kept the papers in her Tel Aviv apartment and in safety deposit boxes in Tel Aviv and Zurich banks.

She sold some of the items for hefty sums. In 1988, for instance, Hoffe auctioned off the original manuscript of "The Trial" at Sotheby's in London. It went for $1.8 million to the German Literature Archive in Marbach, north of Stuttgart.

When Hoffe died three years ago at age 101, she left the collection to her two daughters, Eva Hoffe and Ruth Wiesler, both Holocaust survivors like herself.

But the Israeli National Library has long claimed the papers, saying Brod intended for the collection to end up in its hands. It filed an injunction against the execution of Hoffe's will.

If the AP article is accurate, it's clear that Brod's wishes were not honored. Then again, Kafka's wishes weren't honored either, a fact that casts an air of absurdity over everything else—even more so since most of us are glad his instructions were ignored.

Some options for the court:

1. Take an originalist approach and burn the whole stash.

2. Declare that the law of finder's keepers has been in effect for 86 years, and award the papers to the judge.

3. Strap everyone involved onto a bed, where a torture device will inscribe Brod's will onto their bodies.

4. Give it to WikiLeaks.

Further suggestions are welcome in the comments.

Bonus link #1: Kafka's politics.

Bonus link #2: My favorite Kafka story.