Today marks the 130th birthday of Franz Kafka (1883-1924), and to commemorate the day, media groups and publishers have released various special creations, including one e-book exclusive.

Google put up a Google Doodle on its search homepage paying homage to Gregor Samsa, the salesman-turned-cockroach in Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis.” Author Matthue Roth has released a collection of iconic Kafka tales retold for children, entitled “My First Kafka: Runaways, Rodents, and Giant Bugs.”

Meanwhile, anyone wanting to peruse a few free Kafka titles in English can find them at Project Gutenberg, here.

Some reports have shown coyness over Kafka’s nationality. The UK Daily Telegraph dubs him a “Czech author,” although Czech was far from the language he wrote in, even as a citizen of Prague. The Guardian likewise dubs him “the great Czech mythmaker.”

One wonders where this ambiguity comes from over a Jewish writer born into the cosmopolitan Austro-Hungarian Empire, and it’s definitely no accident that one of the most interesting commemorations comes from Schocken Books, a Penguin Random House imprint founded in Germany in 1931, and later relocated to New York after the Nazi takeover, with a “historic commitment to publishing Judaica.”

Schocken is re-releasing five translated volumes of Kafka’s letters, “unavailable for more than 20 years,” with fine cover designs by Peter Mendelsund, and “now available exclusively in eBook format.”

“Print editions of these new eBooks will be available in print in 2014,” Michiko Clark, the publicity director  overseeing the Schocken imprint, told me . “These books had previously been in print with Schocken, so it was just a matter of transferring them into eBooks.”

A beautiful Vimeo birthday e-card for Kafka from Schocken, based on Mendelsund’s cover designs, is embedded below.

And how would Kafka himself have responded to the era of Kindles and PRISM? Here’s what Clark had to say about that:

“Kafka was one of the first to imagine the possibility of a state or bureaucracy that would have access to the data and documents detailing their citizens’ activities and lives—and also to the absurdity—though still humiliating, to an individual’s sense of their uniqueness, that each individual is without sufficient significance or identity that the state has trouble determining what they know about them. And the paradox of that situation is central to The Trial and The Castle. As for e-books, it is worth remembering that Kafka instructed Max Brod, his literary executor, to burn all of his unpublished work, and since Max Brod ignore those wishes, we are now in a world where everything Kafka wrote—diaries, journals, letters to family, to girlfriends—is now available.”


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