weekend silliness: Kafka, Cazabon


Anastasia Cazabon

While reading Paul Auster’s The Brooklyn Follies, I came upon the story of Kafka and the traveling doll. There is a more conservative telling of it at the The Kafka Project website, but I like how Auster tells the story:

It’s the last year of Kafka’s life, and he’s fallen in love with Dora Diamant, a young girl of nineteen or twenty who ran away from her Hasidic family in Poland and now lives in Berlin. He gets to Berlin in the fall of 1923 and dies the following spring, but those last months are proabbly the happiest months of his life.

Every afternoon, Kafka goes out for a walk in the park. More often than not, Dora goes with him. One day, they run into a little girl in tears, sobbing her heart out. Kafka asks her what’s wrong, and she tells him that she’s lost her doll. He immediately starts inventing a story to explain what happened. ‘Your doll has gone off on a trip,’ he says. ‘How do you know that?’ the girl asks. ‘Because she’s written me a letter,’ Kafka says. The girl seems suspicious. ‘Do you heave it on you?’ she asks. ‘No, I’m sorry,’ he says, ‘I left it at home by mistake, but I’ll bring it with me tomorrow.’

Kafka goes straight home to write the letter.

The next day, Kafka rushes back to the park with the letter. The little girl is waiting for him, and since she hasn’t learned how to read yet, he reads the letter out loud to her. The doll is very sorry, but she’s grown tired of living with the same people all the time. She needs to get out and see the world, to make new friends. It’s not that she doesn’t love the little girl, but she longs for a change of scenery, and therefore they must separate for a while. The doll then promises to write the girl every day and keep her abreast of her activities.

That’s where the story begins to break my heart. It’s astonishing enough that Kafka took the trouble to write the first letter, but now he commits himself to the project of writing the letter every day. He kept it up for three weeks. Three weeks. One of the most brilliant writers who ever lived sacrificing his time – his ever more precious and dwindling time – to composing imaginary letters from a lost doll. Dora says he wrote every sentence with excruciating attention to detail, that the prose was precise, funny, and absorbing. In other words, it was Kafka’s prose and every day for three weeks he went to he park and read another letter to the girl.

The doll grows up, goes to tschool, gets to know other people. She continues to assure the girl of her love, but she hints at certain complications in her life that make it impossible for her to return home. Little by little, Kafka is preparing the girl for the moment when the doll will vanish from her life forever. He finally decides to marry off the doll. He describes the young man she falls in love with, the engagement party, the wedding in the country, even the house where the doll and her husband now live. And then, in the last line, the doll bids farewell to her old and beloved friend.

By that point, of course, the girl no longer misses the doll. Kafka has given her something else instad, and by the time those three weeks are up, the letters have cured her of her unhappiness.

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~ by Jin on March 29, 2009.

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