Franz Kafka was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, of middle-class Jewish parents. He apparently suffered a great deal of psychological pain at a young age at the hands of his domineering father. He took a law degree at the German University of Prague, then obtained a position in the workman's compensation division of the Austrian government. Always neurotic, insecure, and filled with a sense of inadequacy, Kafka's writing is a search for personal fulfillment and understanding. He wrote very slowly and deliberately, publishing very little in his lifetime. At his death he asked a close friend to burn his remaining manuscripts , but the friend refused the request. Instead the friend arranged for publication Kafka's longer stories, which have since brought him worldwide fame and have influenced many contemporary writers. Kafka's stories are nightmarish tales in which a helpless central character's every move is controlled by heartless, impersonal forces. An example is his 1938 psychological thriller, "The Metamorphosis." The story centers around a salesman named Gregor, who wakes up one morning and finds he is no longer a man but a giant insect. In today's increasingly complex, technological, and bureaucratic societies, Kafka has found a growing audience of sympathetic readers who understand the feeling of powerlessness Kafka's heroes experienced.
That E. L. Doctorow is a professional writer in the best sense may be indicated by the fact that he has yet to write two books alike. A New Yorker by birth and schooling, he prepared himself for the writing trade by attending Kenyon College when its literary program under John Crowe Ransom was at full crest, going on to graduate work at Columbia University, and working as a script reader for Columbia Pictures before becoming an editor with New American Library and Dial Press. Among other works, he has written a serious western novel, a science fiction fantasy, a play, a collection of short stories, and three novels of quite different types, one of which includes a considerable amount of poetry. The practice in mixing the real with the fictional that Doctorow gained by writing The Book of Daniel (1971) was put to effective and spectacular use in Ragtime (1975). Real people involve themselves with the problems of the fictional people, and by the time the novel is concluded most readers feel that the fictional character Coalhouse Walker, for instance, must have actually existed since he was so dramatically involved with people we remember from the history books. Doctorow's more recent books of fiction have not had the impact of Ragtime, but they show him continuing to experiment with form and style. Loon Lake (1980), set in the time of the Great Depression, takes a young drifter named Joe Korzeniowski to an opulent residence in the Adirondacks of an industrial magnate and his wife, a famous aviator. Joe's tale of his picaresque wanderings among carnival people is juxtaposed with the questionable stability of the Loon Lake resort, and the novel seems rather heavily loaded with symbols of rebirth and regeneration. Doctorow's frequent shifting point of view as well as his juggling of prose, poetry, and "computerese" make Loon Lake sometimes seem rather like the joint effort of a very talented class in creative writing. It may be no accident that Doctorow next tried his hand at a series of carefully wrought and deceptively simple short fiction that seems very traditional by comparison. The novella and six stories in Lives of the Poets (1984) are almost Chekhovian in their quiet, muted tone, but their use of recurring images and other interweaving devices would suggest that much is operating beneath the surface. World's Fair (1985) is an autobiographical novel, and Billy Bathgate (1991), about gangster Dutch Schultz, are Doctorow's most recent works.
Klaus Mann, son of novelist and Nobel Prize winner Thomas Mann, was born in Munich, Germany on November 18, 1906. He emigrated to the United States in the 1930's after working in the theater and journalism in his homeland. Early works, including "Kindernovele" (1926) and "Mephisto" (1936), were published in German, but later works, such as "The Turning Point" (1941), were published in English. He committed suicide in Cannes on May 21, 1949.