The Doll Story

My dear wife insisted that I should read the book “Brooklyn follies” by Paul Auster. “You won’t be disappointed,” she said, and indeed, I read it with pleasure. One short story in the book caught my attention. The book is not about Franz Kafka, one of the famous authors of the 20th century, but the story is a touching one about him. Kafka died of tuberculosis before he turned 41. Listen to the ‘doll story’ taken from the book:

This is the last year of Kafka’s life and he is in love with Dora Diamant, a 20 year old woman who ran away from her religious Jewish family in Poland and is now in Berlin. She is half his age, but is the only one who gives him the courage to leave Prague, and she becomes the only woman with whom he lived. He arrives in Berlin in autumn 1923 and dies in the spring of the following year, but these last months are possibly the best of his entire life, despite his deteriorating health, and despite the difficult social conditions in Berlin at the time.

Every day Kafka goes for a walk in the city garden and sometimes Dora joins him. One day they run into a weeping girl. Replying to Kafka’s question she tells him that she lost her doll. He comes up with an explanation. ‘Your doll went on a trip,’ he says. ‘How do you know?’ The girl asks. ‘Because she wrote me a letter,’ says Kafka. The girl doesn’t look convinced. ‘Do you have the letter?’ She asks. ‘No, I’m afraid,’ he replies, ‘I left it at home, but I will bring it tomorrow.’ He sounds convincing so the girl does not know what to think. Is it possible that this mysterious man speaks the truth?

Kafka returns home to write the letter. He sits by his desk and Dora detects on his face the same tense and serious expression as when he writes his literature. If he manages to come up with a convincing lie, he will be able to offer the girl an alternative reality to the one that comprises her loss – possibly a false reality, but it is a true and reliable one according to the rules of fiction. The next day Kafka hurries to the garden with the letter in his hand. The girl is waiting for him, and since she doesn’t yet read or write, he reads the letter to her. The doll is very sorry, but she is tired of living with the same people all the time. She must tour the world and search for new friends. It’s not because she doesn’t love the girl anymore, only that she wants new adventures, and therefore must part for a while. And then the doll promises to write the girl every single day and tell her about her experiences.

This is when the story begins to break my heart (says the storyteller). The fact that Kafka made the effort to write the first letter was amazing in itself, but now he commits himself to a plan, according to which he will write a new letter each day – and all of this only to comfort a little girl, whom he met by accident in the park. What kind of person would do this? One of the most brilliant writers humanity has ever known dedicates his dwindling time to write imaginary letters from a lost doll.

Dora recalls that he wrote with a special attention to detail, that it was real Kafka prose: precise, funny and fascinating. And every single day, for three weeks, he went to the garden and read another letter to the girl. The doll is growing up, she goes to school and she meets new people. She keeps reminding the girl that she loves her, but implies that some complications in her life do not enable her to come back home. Slowly, Kafka prepares the girl for the moment when the doll will disappear from her life forever. He finds it difficult to find a satisfactory ending to the story and is worried that the magic will disappear. He considers a few possibilities and finally decides to get the doll married. He describes the young man with whom she falls in love, the country-style wedding and even the house where they live together. And then, in the final line, the doll says goodbye to her beloved friend.

At this stage (says the storyteller) the girl no longer misses the doll. Kafka gives her something else instead, and by the time the three weeks have passed, the letters have cured her from her misery. She has a story, and when a person is lucky enough to live within a story, within an imaginary world, the pains of this world disappear. As long as the story continues, reality no longer exists.

(“Brooklyn follies” by Paul Auster- free translation to English from the Hebrew version).

What a man and what a touching story. Take from this story as you wish. Maybe the humanity and caring, maybe the power of commitment (the commitment to write every day and keep your word), maybe the professionalism in every situation, or maybe the opportunity to live sometimes within a story (it happens to me in movies that I enjoy…)

Fireworks (9)
Shuka, Thursday, July 24, 2008

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