Between the Lines: Searching for her roots, she finds her calling

| June 30, 2012 | 1 Comment

“I became a full time writer in 1990, because I had discovered a story, a true story that had never been told.” The result of Kathi Diamant’s discovery is “Kafka’s Last Love: The Mystery of Dora Diamant,” a biography published in 2003.

Almost twenty years earlier, as a student at the University of Georgia, the professor of her German literature class asked Kathi if she was related to Dora Diamant, Kafka’s companion during the last year of his life. She had no idea; it was the first she’d heard of Dora. She wanted to know more, but Dora’s trail seemed to end at Kafka’s death in 1924. A Kafka biography in 1984 provided her with new information and set her on her pilgrimage, which included visits to Prague, Vienna, and Jerusalem, interviewing Kafka experts and Dora’s family and friends, hunting down letters and archives. Discovering and securing Dora’s diary in 2000 was a significant marker in the quest for Dora and in Kathi’s cementing a book offer. She also found and acquired some of Dora’s letters to friends, her files in Gestapo and Nazi records in Germany, her secret file in Moscow, and more than eighty photographs.

As Kathi’s scrupulously researched and well-written biography shows, Dora turned out to be more than a literary muse, the proverbial “little woman behind the great man.” She was indeed the keeper of Kafka’s flame until her death in 1952, but she lived an extraordinary and adventurous life of her own in the theatre and in literary circles throughout much of Eastern Europe, escaping to England in 1939, just days before the Nazis invaded Poland.

Kathi Diamant has enjoyed numerous journeys and adventures.

As founder and director of the Kafka Project at San Diego State University, Kathi has continued to pursue the mystery of missing letters and notebooks of Kafka’s that were in Dora’s possession until they were confiscated by the Gestapo in 1933. The Project, with the blessings of the Kafka Estate, seeks to build public interest and media coverage about these documents’ importance to Kafka’s legacy and scholarship. As a result of their efforts, working with international Kafka specialists, the documents, if they still exist, were traced to top-secret closed archives in Poland, and then, more recently to Russia. As this article appears, Kathi is leading a Kafka Project tour, “a romantic European sleuthing adventure,” to the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany.

Kathi still doesn’t know the answer to her professor’s question. She has consulted the “Diamant Collection” at Hebrew University, where a genealogical record of 300 Diamant families is kept, but it’s her own family that she’s had trouble tracing back to Dora’s. But that’s no longer her priority, says Kathi: “Since I’ve found Dora’s family, we could do a DNA test, but after all this time, I rather prefer the mystery.” What excites her is that her explorations led to the discovery of Dora’s lost family members, who were reunited through her research. And as a result, Dora’s family in Israel has welcomed Kathi into the family.

In addition to her Kafka research, writing, and speaking, Kathi continues to pursue her other lives and loves, including the theatre and her more than 25 years of broadcast media and print journalism. She has received awards and honors for her acting and television work, including an Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer. In 2006, she received a Living Legacy Award from the Women’s International Center. She teaches writing classes through the Osher Institute at SDSU— which is where I first met her—and recently taught a Kafka course at UCSD, which she describes as “One of the most fulfilling and stimulating experiences of my varied career.” She’s working with San Diego’s ION Theatre to develop her play, “Dora’s Story,” which was selected for the Streisand Festival in 1994, for a new production this coming winter.

Kathi is also writing a memoir of her pilgrimage—that’s the story I want to read. As she sums it up, “The mythologist Joseph Campbell suggested that we should ‘follow our bliss.’ Well, that’s what I’ve been able to do with my obsession with Dora, and it has changed my life in amazing ways.”

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