Franz Kafka was a recognized German-speaking author. His unique body of writing—much of which is incomplete and was mainly published posthumously—is considered among the most influential in Western literature. His most famous stories include The Metamorphosis (1912) and In the Penal Colony (1914), while his novels are The Trial (1925), The Castle (1926), and Amerika (1927).
Many writers have recognized the impact that Franz Kafka had on their work. J.D. Salinger, Albert Camus, and David Foster Wallace continue to explore the same themes of isolation, powerlessness, and the search for meaning in life.
Franz Kafka was born in Prague, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Kafka's first language was German, but he was also fluent in Czech. Later, Kafka acquired some knowledge of the French language and culture; one of his favorite authors was Flaubert. Kafka first studied chemistry at the Charles-Ferdinand University of Prague but switched after two weeks to law. This direction offered a range of career possibilities, which pleased his father, and required a longer course of study that gave Kafka time to take classes in German studies and art history.
At the university, he joined a student club named Lese— und Redehalle der Deutschen Studenten, which organized literary events, readings, and other activities. At the end of his first year of studies, he met Max Brod, who would become his close friend. His other acquaintance became the journalist Felix Weltsch, who also studied law.
Kafka obtained the degree of Doctor of Law on 18 June 1906 and performed an obligatory year of unpaid service as a law clerk for the civil and criminal courts. Kafka's writing attracted little attention until after his death. During his lifetime, he published only a few short stories and never finished any of his novels, unless "The Metamorphosis" is considered a (short) novel.
Before his death, Kafka wrote to his friend and literary executor Max Brod: "Dearest Max, my last request: Everything I leave behind me ... in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters (my own and others'), sketches, and so on, [is] to be burned unread."
Brod overrode Kafka's wishes, believing that Kafka had given these directions to him specifically because Kafka knew he would not honor them—Brod had told him as much. Brod would oversee the publication of most of Kafka's work in his possession, which soon began to attract attention and high critical regard.
Max Brod encountered significant difficulty in compiling Kafka's notebooks into any chronological order. Kafka was known to start writing in the middle of notebooks, from the last towards the first, etc.
All of Kafka's published works were written in German, except several letters he wrote in Czech to Milena Jesenská.
Franz Kafka suffered from tuberculosis for several years. He died at the age of 40 in a sanatorium in Kierling, near Vienna, Austria.