Even when truth is not stranger than fiction, it frequently provides us with a more satisfying tale. That’s one conclusion to be drawn from Benjamin Balint’s new book, Kafka’s Last Trial: The Case of a Literary Legacy. An up-and-coming Israeli nonfiction writer and professor of literature, Balint has taken as his subject the same one that was chosen by the acclaimed novelist Nicole Krauss for her 2016 book Forest Dark: the recent set of legal rulings emanating from Jerusalem over who owns the greater portion of Franz Kafka’s manuscripts and letters.

The route by which these documents arrived in the Jewish State was a circuitous one, and it has been the subject of more than four decades’ worth of litigation. Before Kafka died in 1924, he asked his best friend and principal booster,...


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