Kafka and the doll is one of the best stories I’ve read. It reminds me so much of my Mom who was an expert at spinning a soothing story every time someone felt sad or hurt.
I came across this story Reiner Stach’s book Kafka: The Years of Insight.
It’s the last year of Franz Kafka’s life, and he’s fallen in love with Dora Diamant, a young girl who ran away from her family in Poland and now lives in Berlin. She’s half his age, but she’s the one who gives him the courage to leave Prague-something he’s been wanting to do for years-and she becomes the first and only woman he lives with. He gets to Berlin in the fall of 1923 and dies the following spring, but those last months are probably the happiest months of his life.
Every afternoon, Kafka goes out for a walk in the park. Dora often accompanies 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 have 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.’
He’s so convincing, the girl doesn’t know what to think anymore. Can it be possible that this mysterious man is telling the truth?
Kafka goes straight home to write-the letter. He sits down at his desk, and as Dora watches him write, she notices the same seriousness and tension he displays when composing his own work. He isn’t about to cheat the little girl. This is a real literary labor, and he’s determined to get it right. If he can come up with a beautiful and persuasive lie, it will supplant the girl’s loss with a different reality-a false one, maybe, but something true and believable according to the laws of fiction.
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 becomes truly heart-warming. It’s astonishing enough that Kafka took the trouble to write that first letter, but now he commits himself to the project of writing a new letter every day-for no other reason than to console the little girl, who happens to be a complete stranger to him, a child he ran into by accident one afternoon in a park.
What kind of man does a thing like that? He kept it up for three weeks, One of the most brilliant writers who ever lived sacrificing his time to composing imaginary letters from a lost doll.
He wrote every sentence with excruciating attention to detail—the prose was precise, funny, and absorbing. In other words, it was Kafka’s prose, and every day for three weeks he went to the park and read another letter to the girl. The doll grows up, goes to school, 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 struggles to come up with a satisfactory ending, worried that if he doesn’t succeed, the magic spell will be broken. After testing out several possibilities, 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 instead, and by the time those three weeks are up, the letters have cured her of her unhappiness.
There’s a version of the story that goes like this: At the end of three weeks, Kafka presents the child with a doll, which of course, looks very different from the original doll. There’s a note that says “my travels have changed me.” Many years later, the now grown girl finds a letter stuffed into an unnoticed crevice in the cherished replacement doll, the gist of which is this: Everything that you love, you will eventually lose, but in the end, love will return in a different form.’
Nobody is immune to grief and loss. And healing happens when we open ourselves to love, which will come back in another form. For the child sad over the loss of her doll in the story, it was Kafka’s letters which provided the love and care, leading to her healing.
Did you enjoy the story?
Inspiration is everywhere. Step outside. See the world. You never know what wonderful experience awaits you.
My ideas do not arise when I’m at the desk, but in the middle of my life.
Wednesday Wisdom is a series with short bursts of easy-to-consume wisdom in the form of stories, quotes, anecdotes, and humor.
Featured image from Kafka’s Doll, The animated short film’s production blog!
Pin image and images in post from Kafka e a boneca viajante by Fabra, Jordi Sierra I