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BookThink's Author Profiles
An Interview with Kathi Diamant

by Catherine Petruccione

#53, 3 October 2005

Kafka's Last Love: The Mystery of Dora Diamant (Basic Books, NY, 2003) is the story of Dora Diamant, Franz Kafka's mistress during the last year of his life.

Dora was at his side when Kafka, only 40 years old, succumbed to tuberculosis in 1924. He deeply affected her life, and she never forgot him, though she did go on to marry, bear a child, and survive some of the worst upheavals of the 20th century.

Kathi Diamant, author of Kafka's Last Love, was born the year that Dora Diamant died.

And thus the mystery began. During her college years, it was simple curiosity, not knowing if she was related to Dora or not, but it ultimately grew into a full-time activity culminating in the establishment of the Kafka Project at San Diego State University, not to mention world-wide travel and research. The outcome of Kathi's enormous undertaking is a moving and detailed biography of Dora's life, which also provides new insight into Kafka himself.

Kathi Diamant now lives in San Diego with her husband Byron LaDue, where she is an adjunct professor at San Diego State University. Among her many successful pursuits, she is also an actress, guest lecturer, journalist, and formerly a morning talk show host/interviewer for KFMB-TV in San Diego from 1983-1990. She received her B.A. degree in Theatre and Speech Communications from Florida State University and also attended the American Film Institute's Screenwriting Program in Los Angeles and the University of Georgia. She is founder and Director of the Kafka Project at San Diego State University, established in 1998. She has won numerous awards for her writing, acting and journalism, including the Geisel Award, "The Best of the Best," San Diego Book Awards, 2004. Currently, she is Anchor/Producer for KPBS TV-FM stations in San Diego, California.

BookThink: Kathi, I understand you began pursuing this story because of your curiosity about the possibility of being related to Dora Diamant. Can you tell us how this question came up and how it influenced you during your research?

Diamant: I was 19 years old in a German language literature class in college, reading and translating Kafka's The Metamorphosis. I had taken the class because I had grown up in Germany. I thought I had retained enough of the language so that I'd ace the class, but I hadn't counted on Kafka - and here we were translating a story that was absolutely inexplicable to my 19-year old person. The only thing that was keeping me in class was the instructor, who was young and cute! And also the fact that he engaged me in conversation in front of the other students, thinking I might have some information that I might be able to impart - was I related to Dora Diamant? I hadn't heard of anybody else with my last name. I asked whether she was Jewish, because my father's family was Jewish. And he said "Yes, I think she was." And I said, "Well, yes, then we probably are related." I promised to find out and let him know, and after class I went running to the library.

BookThink: Have you had any contact with this professor since that time?

Diamant: Well, this is so ironic. When the book was in the final stages of writing and editing, I realized that I needed to thank this guy. I was working on the acknowledgements for the book, so I got boxes out of storage and found my transcripts from 1971. It simply said "Instructor" - no name. I contacted the University of Georgia German Department. I had thought he was a Ph.D. candidate, but it turned out they didn't have a Ph.D. program in those days, so he must have been a graduate student. Then I looked through all the rolls of the graduate students during that time period, but no name stood out. I worked with the registrar's office as well but was not able to come up with an answer. With everything I was able to find out about Dora, I wasn't able to find out the name of my German teacher. I often tell the story of how his question planted the seed for this whole project, and perhaps some day he will come forward so I can thank him!

BookThink: Did you find an answer to the question, or are there any lingering doubts?

Diamant: The fact is, I don't know. It's possible, but it's not the point. The point is that we are all connected, regardless of blood or birth. The question could be answered with a DNA test, but it's not necessary for me to know. Life is a great mystery. There aren't explanations for a lot of things. There aren't explanations for why I was able to find Dora's diary in Paris when other scholars had gone before me, or how I was able to figure out things about Dora before I found proof of them, or why coincidental connections led to the greatest discoveries. There is no way to understand what connection exists between us other than to honor it and make sure it brings the greatest good to the most people. One of the most important lessons I've gotten out of this is that life may end, but love doesn't die, and that we can influence others we will never meet through the way we live our lives. The love that Dora engendered in her life is visited on me by those who loved her, who have come to love me and who I now love. Dora's vibrancy, her life force, is still present.

BookThink: Your book exposes aspects of Kafka that are very different from the Kafka we usually envision from his writing - a surprisingly light, fun, happy and optimistic side. Do you think it was his relationship with Dora which brought out these qualities late in his life or do you think they were always there?

Diamant: They were always there. That's what attracted Dora to him. Everyone mentioned his cheerfulness, his kindness, his playfulness. Max Brod said that Kafka was the most amusing man he ever met. He was often called a saint, not because he imposed his will or he was "holier than thou" but because he held himself to such a high standard.

One of the great stories I had to cut out of the book was about Kafka's guerilla law career. He used to wage what he called "campaigns for justice." Kafka was a lawyer for the Workers' Accident Insurance Company and was supposed to represent the state against the workers. He also wrote guidelines for safe practices for workers, but he was primarily the representative for the insurance company. In this case, an old man, a day laborer, had had his leg crushed in an accident with a crane. He had submitted the paperwork for his claim, but it wasn't in the proper form and it would have been denied, dooming him to a life of poverty. However, all was saved when one of the leading lawyers in Prague showed up at this poor laborer's door and offered to take on his case pro bono, which he successfully argued against Kafka. The old man later learned that it was Kafka who paid for that lawyer so that he would receive his just and fair compensation.

Johannes Urzidil, who wrote the account of Kafka's funeral in my book, said Kafka was the capstone of the Prague writer's community, that he was the spirit behind them all, even though he wasn't the most successful, the most outspoken, or the most prominent, that he was the essence of them. He also said that it was impossible to know Kafka and not love him, and moreover, that his friends loved each other for his sake. Kafka was an extraordinarily loving person who was beloved by all who knew him. One of the reasons I feel it was important to publish my book was because Kafka has become a caricature of his fictional protagonists - a monstrously lonely, alienated, deeply depressed man. This distorted view of Kafka has come from the literary perspective, from academics who have taken his literary works and applied it to his life and announced: this is Kafka. But that is not the picture presented in writings of people who actually knew him.

BookThink: Although it is obvious that Kafka had a charismatic personality (and it is easy to imagine how Dora falls in love with him), she definitely comes across as the strong, self-possessed one of the pair. Do you think it was primarily these qualities, or others that were so attractive to Kafka?

Diamant: Overwhelmingly, it was her independence, the fact that she was able to do at 25 what he at age 40 had still been unable to do, break away from his father and his expectations. I think that her courage inspired him and gave him not only hope but strength. He thought she was living an authentic life, and this was something above all that he admired.

She was doing work at the Jewish People's Home to help others, work that he had for many years encouraged and supported, that he believed would lead the workers on a spiritual path to salvation even before the people being helped. That's what made her such a good partner for him. She didn't want what all the other women of her time wanted, which was a solid marriage, central heating, and, as Kafka said, "heavy German furniture." These things were not essential to Dora. He thought he couldn't have a marriage because most women wanted security and luxury. He wanted marriage, wanted that connection to someone, but there was no one appropriate until he met Dora. Max Brod said that had he met Dora sooner, his will to live would have been stronger sooner and in time. I also believe that had he not been so ill and died that they would have stayed together and been devoted for the rest of their lives. Dora continued to love him. She had a photograph of him at her bedside when she died.

BookThink: The largest part of this book, of course, is about Dora. What did you find most admirable and memorable about her?

Diamant: The passion with which she led her life. The fact that she was someone who faced some of the greatest challenges of the twentieth century, and she came out of it not unscathed but with her optimism and her belief in humanity intact. As Hanny Lichtenstern told me, Dora understood human nature and made allowances for all, and she was able to find the good in any given situation.

This is a gift, and it is practicable. It's not elusive. We just have to do it, in any given situation, say, "Okay, what do I have to be grateful for in this situation?" It's something I have practiced because of Dora's influence. Dora's quote has become my motto. Her last words on her death bed were "Mach was du kannst," [Do what you can]. It is a bit of a double-edged sword because it means to do what you can, which can let you off the hook in one way, but on the other hand, you have to do what you can.

BookThink: It had to be very moving for you to know that Dora's long unmarked grave finally has a headstone, largely due to your efforts. Tell us how this came about.

Diamant: In 1998, when I made contact with Dora's nephew, Zvi Diamant, and told him where she was buried and the appalling news that she was buried in an unmarked grave, he was horrified. He had tried to find her and didn't know where she was. I assured him that I fully intended to put a memorial there and that, as soon as the book sold, I would purchase a marker. He said, "It is decided. We will not wait. You name the date, and I'll pay for the stone." We agreed to hold a stone-setting ceremony on August 15, 1999, the 47th anniversary of Dora's death.

Based on information leading up to this event, we found Dora's sister in Israel. That whole branch of the family was reunited and Zvi came to know his cousins and his aunt. New relatives are still turning up. Last year, a new cousin was discovered in Denmark. Actually, that cousin helped me understand what this was all about. When we met for the first time, she gave me a beautiful silver heart necklace and let me know how much it meant to her to have gone from being an orphan and a victim to someone who was surrounded by family in Israel. And I thought, "That's it, that's what it was all about."

This occurred in February of last year at the book launch party in London, which was also the first gathering of the Kafka and Diamant families since Kafka's funeral. That evening was a definitive experience because everyone there (about 125 people) were able to experience the real life connection to Dora that exists right now. As I said before, we are all connected, regardless of blood or birth. And to have that moment coalesce was wonderful.

BookThink: Your book has received excellent reviews from the critics. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and found myself swept up in the nuance and detail of the story. Your travel and research for this book was extensive, to say the least. What was the most intriguing or surprising discovery for you during your research for this book?

Diamant: There were so many. Finding Dora's grave. Finding Dora's photographs in Berlin was truly overwhelming - when I saw these 60 photographs. It was shortly before I left Berlin, and through a series of coincidences, I was having lunch with a member of the Lask family. Dora's husband had been a Lask, and this was her great niece. She brought three family photo albums with her, and, as I looked at these, she must have thought I was insane because I cried and couldn't stop crying. I cried for about three days. This was one of the painful aspects of the book - choosing only 13 photographs of the 60, because there were many incredible photographs. Finding Dora's family. Finding Kafka's hairbrush, which is the only personal item of his that is known to exist.

The thing that surprised me the most was the fact that there were so many records of her in the Nazi archives, that there was documentation and that the papers that were missing could be traced. And we still don't even know what's out there. I was only in those archives for one month. I was there for two months before I was granted access. I looked at all I could within that period of time, but there were other trails to follow which I didn't have the time or financial resources to complete.

One of the most surprising things is that my book included, for the first time in English, the actual account of Kafka's death. With all the biographies that have been written on Kafka, no one had written exactly what happened at the end of his life. This story was available - it had been published in a German newspaper in 1953 - but no one had included this incredible, beautiful ending in his biographies. Dora had been taken out of it. This has now been rectified, and Dora is finding her place back in history. Dora thought it was important to look at Kafka as a human being and understand that what he was trying to say in his writing was not to be hopeless and give up. The worst possible thing that you could take away from the message of Kafka was that he was pessimistic. Instead he left us better armed to storm the great wall.

BookThink: Are you still on the trail of lost Kafka material and do you believe that undiscovered works of Kafka will someday turn up?

Diamant: Yes. I had to undertake the search regardless of whether or not we would find anything. The search was valuable in and of its own sake because even if we didn't find the missing Kafka papers, we would have exhausted all possible avenues, and that chapter could then be closed. As one London literary critic said, until these items are found, this is a still-open chapter in Kafka's life and his literary history. Seeing for myself how the Nazis documented and saved everything and saved it in triplicate, I believe that with time and a concerted effort by a number of people, we can find more.

For example, I have already uncovered four original Kafka letters. The letters were written to Ludwig Hardt, an actor, and mention Dora. Last year I gave a talk at a synagogue and somebody bought my book to give to a friend. A couple of weeks later, the man who had received the book contacted me. His mother was the last companion of Ludwig Hart, and he had inherited these letters. They were in his attic. I did what I could to help make them part of the public record. The University of the German Literature Archives at Marbach made an offer that he accepted. Unfortunately, it was summertime and everyone at Marbach went on vacation for eight weeks, without acknowledging the deal. Meanwhile, the auction houses were calling this old gentleman and pressing him to sell, and he finally buckled under the pressure. Now the letters are in private hands, and I'm not sure who has them. Part of the Kafka Project should be to make sure that doesn't happen again. There were the four letters and one of Kafka's favorite books inscribed by him to Ludwig Hart, all of which sold for a lot of money. So, the answer to your question is this: If I'm finding Kafka letters in San Diego, anything is possible.

BookThink: Tell us about the Kafka Project at San Diego State University.

Diamant: The Kafka Project is the third search for Kafka's missing writings and the first conducted since the 1950s. Following the collapse of Communism and the opening of the archives in Eastern Europe, the search once again became possible. The first search by Max Brod in Berlin 1933 is documented in my book. The second search was conducted by Klaus Wagenbach in Berlin with Max Brod in Israel following the Second World War. Their search ended at the Iron Curtain, when they were told by the Chief of Police in that the papers were possibly on deposit in Silesia, an area of Czechoslovakia and Poland.

Part of my goal has been not to duplicate any efforts, to make it a large and extended project, involving as many people as possible. At its height in Berlin in 1998, the Kafka Project had three translators, one assistant, and several volunteers. I had gotten grants, held fund-raisers and put in my own money to move the project forward. Since then I have had to find other ways to raise money for the Kafka Project. Now I do it through my book talks. For example, I am giving a talk on Tuesday to the Brandeis University National Women's Committee. Last year I bought and donated 500 of my books to the Kafka Project, and these books are sold after my talks to help fund the project. I have two websites: and The Kafka Project site is being redesigned to hold all the data and research and reports on line so that anyone can look at what's been accomplished. I want people to get involved in the research. For example, someone who is going to Poland on vacation might also want to deliver Kafka Project bulletins to archival centers and government depositories while they are there.

BookThink: I am quoting a passage from your book now which is bound to be of interest to book collectors: "Only a few copies of The Castle sold when it was first published. Seventy years later, in 1996, in an antiquarian bookshop in Amsterdam, a Dutch Kafka scholar discovered a rare first edition of The Castle. On the overleaf of the book was an inscription dated 1929, which read: 'To the wonderful couple, Hela and Walter Gohlstein,' and was signed 'Dora Dymant-Kafka.' Nothing further is known of the couple, but the book was priced at $350." Was this the original 1926 edition (Das Schloss)? I assume the Dutch scholar purchased the book. Is it still in private hands?

Diamant: It was a first edition, and the Dutch scholar did not buy the book, as he didn't have the money for it. I asked him the same question (what happened to it) and he didn't know. It's out there, somewhere.

The original manuscript for The Trial sold at auction for a million dollars a few years ago. There's another whole book to be written about what's happened to Kafka's manuscripts - their journey from Prague to Tel Aviv to Zurich to Oxford, the intrigue, the double-dealing, the literary backstabbing, the removal from one archive and spiriting it away to another by scholars.

BookThink: You have had a very interesting and diversified career, Kathi. Television, theatre, travel, adjunct professor, public speaker, journalism, extensive research, the list goes on, and now a successful book. What accomplishment are you most proud of and is there any unfulfilled dream you have that you might share with us?

Diamant: When I took my first research trip for Dora back in 1985, I had a nightmarish experience in Israel. I left, taking the first plane out of the country, and went to Greece where a friend was living in Athens. She was a Jungian psychologist and invited me to go that night with her to hear Joseph Campbell speak on the subject of The Odyssey and the role of myth in our lives. I'd never heard of him, but I went along with her. And Joseph Campbell explained it all for me. I was able to see my search for Dora within the hero's journey, and the point of the hero's journey is the quest to bring back the boon, the lasting good for the community. I realized that my job was not only to tell Dora's story but to make sure it brought something good to light. This guided my journey and helped me see the purpose of it, not just to me personally, but to the world. From Joseph Campbell I learned the importance of discovering what brings about the flowering of our humanity. That's my dream, to continue discovering what brings about the flowering of my humanity - and living that way.

BookThink: Can we look forward to another book from you in the future?

Diamant: I would still like to tell the story of how I learned about Dora and the coincidences that connected us. The working title is "Finding Dora, Getting Kafka." If I find the missing Kafka papers, I won't have to worry about getting a publisher for the book. But another book is not the first thing on my plate right now. There's the documentary and perhaps a film. As Kafka once said, "as long as you keep climbing there will be stairs, they will magically appear under your climbing feet." That's what my process is now - to keep climbing and looking forward to the next opportunity that comes my way.


Kafka's Last Love: The Mystery of Dora Diamant, published by Basic Books, NY, 2003; Secker & Warburg, UK, 2003; in paperback by Vintage/Random House in August 2004; and published by Circe/Oceano, Barcelona, Spain, 2005.

Contributor: Hot Chocolate for the Mystical Soul: 101 True Stories of Angels, Miracles, and Healing, published 1998 by Plume.

Contributor: ABC Agents Gazeteers, 1993-1996. (Travel Agents' guide published annually in UK).

Kathi Diamant has also written articles for Real Woman, a national publication on women's health issues; SDSU Magazine, quarterly of San Diego State University; Zoonooz, monthly publication of Zoological Society of San Diego; Koala Club, San Diego Zoological Society's children's magazine; Journeywoman, an adventure/travel journal and online magazine; and newspapers including The San Francisco Chronicle, New York Post, Washington Times, Houston Post, and more, covering travel, arts, entertainer/celebrity profiles, adventure, health and fitness.

Purchase Kathi's book here:

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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