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By Paula Friedman

The Mystery of Dora Diamant.
By Kathi Diamant.
Basic Books, $30.  

Kathi Diamant describes a Franz Kafka far different from a grim, inaccessible genius. ''Kafka's Last Love'' illuminates the relationship between the writer and Dora Diamant (no relation to the author), the woman with whom he spent the last year of his life. A Polish Jew from a religious family, Dora remained all her life passionately attached to her background, which she expressed through her effort to keep literary Yiddish alive and her commitment to Zionism. Kafka and Dora dreamed of settling in Palestine, but because of his poor health, the couple never made it past Berlin. And though Kafka desired children, he felt sure that his health and his literary pursuits would make this impossible, a knowledge that grieved him. Shortly after the birth of his niece Gerti, Kafka wrote in his diary that he felt ''envy, nothing but furious envy at my sister, or rather of my brother-in-law, because I will never have a child.'' Yet Marianne, Dora's daughter from a later marriage, raised by her mother in an atmosphere of intense intellectual and emotional remembrance, came to bear an uncanny resemblance to the writer whom she considered ''her first father.'' Paula Friedman Published: 05 - 11 - 2003 , Late Edition - Final , Section 7 , Column 3 , Page 20