Books: The Malady Was Life Itself

FRANZ KAFKA: THE COMPLETE STORIES; Schocken; 486 pages; $22.50

Anguish was not Franz Kafka's central obsession. It was his only one: the misery of illness, the descending sorrows of guilt, estrangement and despair. Torment stains every page of his fiction, and his autobiographical writings are so clotted with disorders that one collection states: "Frequent references to insomnia and headache have not been included in the index."

Not all the sickness was psychosomatic. Kafka succumbed to tuberculosis in 1924 at the age of 40. But he regarded even real disease with paranoid suspicion: "My brain...

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