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Kafka's Leopards (The Americas Series)

Kafka's Leopards - Moacyr Scliar, Thomas O. Beebee In 1916 in a shtetl near Odessa, Benjamin Kantarovitch, known as Mousy, is at a loss for what to do with his life. When his communist friend Yossi can't complete a secret mission from Trotsky himself, Mousy sees his calling. He sneaks across the border and makes it all the way to Prague . . . where he discovers he's lost the rest of the instructions. Mousy knows he's supposed to retrieve a coded text, and what he ends up with is "Leopards in the Temple," one of the enigmatic aphorisms of none other than Franz Kafka. Despite a host of other misunderstandings and a comically failed mission, he makes it back home with this signed original, which he guards like a talisman for the rest of his life, long after emigrating to Brazil. In a brief coda, the text reappears when Mousy's great-nephew Jaime is arrested for protesting Brazil's military dictatorship and it becomes a talisman to be sacrificed in exchange for his freedom.For such a short work, it's impressive how many layers and resonances Kafka's Leopards contains. It unites European and Latin American perspectives on political oppression; it allegorizes different modes of interpreting texts, generally fallacious; it merges the shtetl fable with the spy thriller. It's a classic and significant demonstration of what "World Literature" can be as a place for bridging and intertwining cultures, not reducing them to inoffensive blandness. And it's a quick, fun read.Beebee's translation is excellent, smooth and idiomatic with appropriate hints of the disparate settings and literary traditions coming through in both syntax and vocabulary. An introduction gives useful context, particularly about Kafka's text itself and the role of textual interpretation in the book.Its brevity, its ease, the hero's name all suggest Kafka's Leopards is a minor work—but maybe that's just another misinterpretation.