Kafka Was the Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir

Kafka Was the Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir



The Pequod Review:

Anatole Broyard's memoir Kafka Was the Rage looks back fondly on the vibrant artistic and intellectual scene of 1940s Greenwich Village:

Nineteen forty-six was a good time — perhaps the best time — in the 20th century. The war was over, the Depression had ended, and everyone was rediscovering the simple pleasures. A war is like an illness and when it’s over you think you’ve never felt so well. There’s a terrific sense of coming back, of repossessing your life.” There was also newfound pride in the nation’s position: the 20th century was dubbed “the American Century” and New York City, home to the newly established United Nations, referred to as “the capital of the world.

Broyard's book is a bit too nostalgic (Broyard was in his mid-twenties at the time, an age when many people have their best memories) and he spends too much of his story on various romantic relationships that are not always interesting to the reader (though these were surely interesting to him). But there are good sections that capture the period's thrilling cultural developments:

I realize that people still read books now and some people actually love them, but in 1946 in the Village our feelings about books — I’m talking about my friends and myself — went beyond love. It was as if we didn’t know where we ended and books began. Books were our weather, our environment, our clothing. We didn’t simply read books; we became them. We took them into ourselves and made them into our histories. While it would be easy to say that we escaped into books, it might be truer to say that books escaped into us. Books were to us what drugs were to young men in the sixties.

They showed us what was possible. We had been living with whatever was close at hand, whatever was given, and books took us great distances. We had known only domestic emotions and they showed us what happens to emotions when they are homeless. Books gave us balance — the young are so unbalanced that anything can make them fall. Books steadied us; it was as if we carried a heavy bag of them in each hand and they kept us level. They gave us gravity.


I wanted to be an intellectual, too, to see life from a great height, yet I didn't want to give up my sense of connection, my intimacy with things. When I read a book, I always kept one eye on the world, like someone watching the clock.