introducing readers to writers since 1995

February 11, 2005

This Is What Happened to Ernst Pawel

by Ron Hogan

I got an email this morning from a reader letting me know that years after his bestselling novel, From the Dark Tower, had faded into the background, Pawel went on to write "what many regard as the most reliable biography of Franz Kafka." Searching the web for more info, I found this quote from a Jack O'Connell interview about the writing of his novel Word Made Flesh:

"In the year or so that followed my son's birth, I read Ernst Pawel's magnificent biography of Kafka, The Nightmare of Reason, over and over. I couldn't leave it alone. It was like the bloody socket left in the wake of the pulled tooth. I couldn't keep my tongue from roaming through it. The book became, for a time, a touchstone. I had two copies of it. Kept one in the house and one in the car. I'd wake up and read snatches of it. I'd read sentences at traffic lights. Pawel's book intertwined with David Lehman's Signs of the Times: Deconstruction and the Fall of Paul de Man, they bounced off one another and then they bounced off my sleepless brain. Maybe one time too many, eh? And, of course, I went back and reread Anne Frank's diary in the midst of all this rethinking. And slowly, I began to make notes about how a book I'd hoped would be a stripped-to-the-bone joy ride might be transformed into something else."

(O'Connell was one of my favorite writers in the 1990s, from the moment I discovered Wireless; if you like Jerome Charyn's crime novels, I think you'll want to track down O'Connell's stuff as well.) Pawel also went on to write bios of Theodor Herzl and Heinrich Heine but, sadly, nobody seems to have given him his own web page yet.

Oh, one other thing: Pawel's estate sponsors an annual award for outstanding work done by New York City high school students in writing workshops conducted by the 92 Street Y.

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