Kafka's personal library returns to native Prague

Kafkova knihovna

The private library of Prague's most acclaimed literary son - Franz Kafka - returned to his home town this week, 78 years after his death. Nearly 1,000 volumes - including first editions and books which Kafka gave to his friends - were presented to Prague's Franz Kafka Society, as a gift from the German car manufacturer Porsche. Rob Cameron has more on this unique literary legacy.

For decades a Stuttgart collector named Herbert Blank trawled through antique bookshops, searching for Kafka first editions and volumes from his personal library. Herbert Blank's dream was to return them to Prague, where Kafka lived most of his life. On Tuesday that dream was realised: the collection was officially handed over to the city's Franz Kafka Society by the German car-maker Porsche, which bought the collection from Mr Blank last year. With his wife translating, Mr Blank explained to me how he felt a moral responsibility to return Kafka's personal library to Prague.

"I always had Kafka first editions, and one day I had the responsibility - the moral responsibility - I wanted to do something for Kafka, and make the whole collection."

Kafka always had mixed feelings about his native city - "this little mother has claws" he once wrote in a letter to a friend. Mr and Mrs Blank described to me how surprised they had been on their first visit to Prague - a city ever-present in the author's dark, claustrophobic prose.

"You know when we came here and saw Prague for the first time, when we saw the wonderful atmosphere, we had the question - how could he have written those books in this very beautiful atmosphere? And it is like a prophecy, like a feeling for what would happen. It is terrible. And he suffered from his imagination."

Kafka's life and works are often considered a unique reflection of Central Europe's diverse artistic and intellectual culture before the Second World War. The Jewish writer, who spoke fluent Czech but wrote in German, was haunted by man's alienation and the state's capacity to oppress its citizens. Only after his death did his nightmarish visions became reality, in the form of two totalitarian regimes. And for this reason, says collector Herbert Blank, the work of Franz Kafka has an almost prophetic quality.

"The whole work of Kafka, he is like a prophet. His work is the destiny of the 20th century."