Rodger Kamenetz’s Burnt Books, the latest volume in the Nextbook Press Jewish Encounters series, is a dual biography of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav and Franz Kafka, the great surrealist writer. Both men left instructions that their writings be destroyed after their deaths, nearly a century apart; both men’s wishes were ignored. In time, both men became icons: On Rosh Hashanah each year, thousands of Jews make a pilgrimage to Nachman’s grave in Ukraine; debate rages still over the fate of Kafka’s papers. Kamenetz sees Nachman and Kafka as kindred spirits, men whose works speak to one another about the challenges of maintaining tradition in the face of modernity.
Kamenetz spoke to Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry about the two men, about the relationship each had to the Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment, and about how Nachman’s fable about a turkey responds to Kafka’s tale of an insect. Running time: 17:57.