Max Brod & Franz Kafka.

Max Brod & Franz Kafka.

The Lost Pages (Allen & Unwin, out now) is the debut novel of Melbourne author Marija Peričić, and the winner of the 2017 Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award. Set in 1908, the book follows Max Brod, the rising star of Prague’s literary world. Everything he desires – fame, respect, love – is finally within his reach. But a new rival on the scene, Franz Kafka, has the power to eclipse him for good, and he must decide to what lengths he will go to hold onto his success. But there is more to Franz than meets the eye, and Max, too, has secrets that are darker than even he knows, secrets that may in the end destroy both of them. In this inspired novel of friendship, fraud, madness and betrayal, Marija Peričić writes vividly and compellingly of an extraordinary literary rivalry. Here she shares the background and motivation behind the novel.

See the end of the article for a special giveaway for members!

The Lost Pages was inspired by an article I read in the New York Times Magazine, back in 2012. The article was about an international court case around some lost Kafka manuscripts, and this court case was so Kafkaesque as to be barely believable. It had everything; armies of lawyers representing both sides, septuagenarian cat ladies, obfuscating tricks by the defendants – and all of this was going on around the elusive Kafka papers, which almost no one had seen and whose contents was a mystery.

Initially it was this trial that I wanted to write about, but when I started planning the novel, every plan that I wrote seemed to fall flat. I wanted the story to be a literary detective story-cum-legal drama, but I just couldn’t get it to come together. The characters were just these dead and lifeless things. Then I considered including some action in the Prague of the early 1900s, at the time that Kafka was writing. I started to do some more research into the lives of Franz Kafka and Max Brod, and what I found interested me even more than the crazy trial that had first hooked my attention.

At that time I didn’t know very much about Kafka, and my general image of him was that he was rather like a character in one of his stories: a bleak, neurotic fellow. But as I read more about him I discovered that actually he was quite a different man altogether. He was handsome, known for his sense of humour and charisma, and was a health and fitness fanatic. He was also successful at his job in accident insurance, where he invented a number of safety devices, including the civilian safety helmet. This surprised me, because it was almost the polar opposite of what I had expected.

When I began to research Brod I was surprised to find a similar reversal of man and image. As Kafka’s mentor and supporter, Brod had come across a handsome and confident member of the arts communities of and Prague and Israel, but I found that actually he suffered from a severe spinal deformity, for which he had had to wear a full-body brace for years as a child, a cruelty that in the end didn’t stop him from developing a hunchback later in life.

9781760296865This mirroring intrigued me, and the relationship between the two men becomes even more interesting when one considers that almost everything we know of Kafka, we only know through Brod. The bulk of Kafka’s work was published posthumously by Brod, after he famously refused to destroy Kafka’s manuscripts at his death and instead went on to publish them. But Brod did not only publish Kafka’s works ­– he also edited and in some cases finished them, so the line between the two men becomes slightly blurred.

As well as being Kafka’s literary executor, Brod was also a successful novelist and essayist in his own right, and I began to wonder how he must have felt when he first encountered Kafka, whose genius he must instantly have apprehended. Brod had been a generous supporter of and mentor to several up-and-coming writers and musicians, but surely he would have known that Kafka’s brilliance would quite simply erase him from the literary map. What were the limits of his professional generosity? How had Brod felt about his ultimate rival coming blessed with the good looks that he lacked? And how did he feel about potentially becoming the author of his own demise?

When I began exploring these questions, Max’s voice just arrested me, so instead of the novel focusing on the action of the trial as I had originally intended, I decided to approach the story from the position of the mysterious papers; the absent centre of the trial. At the time of writing, no one knew what these papers might contain, but it was believed that a Brod memoir might be among them, and this is what The Lost Pages became: an imagined memoir of literary rivalry between the two men.

We have 5 copies of The Lost Pages to give away to KYD Members, thanks to Allen & Unwin. To enter, simply email your name and postal address to [email protected] with the subject line ‘The Lost Pages’ before 5pm AEST Tuesday 4 July.

The Lost Pages is available now at Readings.