Today, June 3, 2024, is Franz Kafka’s Yahrzeit. It is precisely one hundred years since Kafka, born in 1883, died on June 3, 1914, of tuberculosis at age forty while his parents were still alive. His three sisters survived him but were murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

Kafka was a German-speaking Bohemian-Jewish novelist from Prague, Austria. He was only educated in a Jewish school until his bar mitzvah at age 13. Years later, he once told an acquaintance he was an atheist.

He was a lawyer who died in obscurity. He enjoyed writing stories but sold very few. He disliked his job and writing and told his best friend to burn all of his writings. Fortunately, his friend did not do so. As a result, he is today a widely recognized significant figure in world literature.

His writings are unusual. In the New Yorker, novelist Cynthia Ozick wrote that Kafka ranks among “those writers who have no literary progeny, who are sui generis and cannot be echoed or envied.” Kafka mixes realism with the fantastic and the natural with the bizarre, prompting readers to struggle to find meaning and ideas.

His most famous tales are The Metamorphosis, The Trial, and The Castle. Kindle versions of his books are available on Amazon for meager costs. One can buy fifty-five of his best short stories for just fifteen cents and get a treasure, although I enjoy his longer novels better than the short stories. One can purchase his Kindle version of Collected Works for fifteen cents.

Reading the short stories, one may wonder, as I did, if they reflect Kafka’s emotions.

For example, the tale Tradesman is about a lonely man who dislikes his job. Is Kafka reflecting his displeasure with his lawyer job and his writing preference?

The Rejection is about a man who a pretty girl rejects. Is Kafka, who never married, portraying his hurt?

In Excursions in the Mountains, he speaks of others he calls nobodies who ignore a man trying to reach higher heights. Is he showing his feelings of isolation from society?

The fifty-sixth chapter in this Kindle book by Nahum N. Glatzer tells readers that Kafka’s stories do not reveal their intent and are subject to various interpretations.

Besides the struggle to interpret his stories, how do we interpret Kafka as a man? Is it possible that if he had acquired a fuller Jewish education past the early age of thirteen, when children were only taught childish notions of Judaism, which are easy to mock, he would have had more meaning in his life? Is this a tragedy parents should remember and ensure their children are adequately educated? Would Kafka have been an even better writer with an extended education?