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Kafka's Last Love by Kathi Diamant

By Nick Johnstone and Nicholas Bagnall

This exhaustively researched biography covers the life of Dora Diamant (no relation to the American author), an enigmatic, Hebrew-speaking Polish Jew who fell in love with Franz Kafka in 1923. Soon after, Kafka, slowly succumbing to tuberculosis, moved with Dora to Berlin. United by a belief in early Zionist ideas ("It was Franz's dream to go to Palestine," Dora later noted), the lovers lived out a fantasy, planning to open a restaurant in Tel Aviv.

After Kafka's death in 1924, Dora studied acting, joined the German Communist party and fled Gestapo surveillance for Stalinist Russia, before finding refuge in Britain during the Holocaust. As Kafka's posthumously published writings won literary notoriety, Dora found herself increasingly celebrated by reverent scholars as "Kafka's wife".

This is very much a Jewish story, one of displacement and punctured narrative, a literary mystery expertly investigated. NJ

Little was known about Dora Diamant until her namesake started digging around. Kafka and Dora fell in love just a year before he died in 1924 and she cherished him in his final illness.

Her diaries bring us an unfamiliar picture of Kafka as a man of zestful good humour, as well as extraordinary empathy with others. Dora's own life is almost unbearable to think of.

Persecuted in turn by the Gestapo and the NKVD and declared an enemy alien by the British, she epitomises the dark side of 20th-century Europe; Kafka himself could hardly have invented so grim a story. NB

Published in the UK Telegraph, Arts Section, Paperbacks.
© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2004