The book is a collection of conversations young Gustav Janouch had with Kafka. Although the reliability of Gustav Janouch's various quotation of Kafka may be questionable, I'd rather give this book the benefit of the doubt - simply that it's a great book even if Kafka was thought of as fictional figure. The book on its own sake is deeply moving, capturing small moments in our daily life, and makes you wonder how this life could have been treated differently by a person with a superb and unique understanding of human beings.
A bit of a personal history
I read this small book in Chinese translation (卡夫卡对我说) many years ago. It influenced me deeply. I felt like understanding the way a master mind thinks and speaks and I wished I was able to think and speak like him quite eagerly. That aspiration itself presented happiness to me.The book has been with me ever since. A few years back, I brought this book, along with many other favorite ones, to the US. I took a re-read of it. The new discovery is that while previously I read it from the perspective of a teenager, now I read it from the perspective of the middle-aged Kafka. This makes me wonder - our view of a book is influenced by the state we were in while reading it and the context (aka life experiences) we have gathered. Sadly, the memory of reading a great book cannot be easily reproduced by just reading it again. While young I was intrigued incredibly by Dream of the Red Chamber (红楼梦), while right now, I can better reflect on it through critiques on this book rather than reading it again.
You cannot step into the same river twice.
It’s a bit of a miserable feeling that while getting older, my life’s supply of new wonders is shrinking at a certain speed, while at the same time it’s impossible to reproduce the good old feelings in the backyard even if I pursue them intentionally and heavily. I dare not to ask about future storage of similar happiness at this point. I remember a dialogue in the movie The Hours in the lines of: At that very moment, you thought everything was golden and your life is filled with future wonders for you to discover. You’d never realize that that was the peak of your life. Period.No need to argue how fruitful it is to the human beings this over-emphasis of the greatness of simply being young. It’s a fact that as one gets older, one’s more likely to reflect on the past instead of looking forward to the future.