About the Novel
Winner of the 2017 The Australian/Vogel Literary Award.
It is 1908 and Max Brod is the rising star of Prague’s literary world. Everything he desires—fame, respect, love—is finally within his reach. But when a rival appears on the scene, Max discovers how quickly he can lose everything he has worked so hard to attain. He knows that newcomer, Franz Kafka, has the power to eclipse him for good, and he must decide what lengths he will go to hold onto his success. But there is more to Franz than meets the eye, and Max, too, has secrets that are darker than even he knows, secrets that may in the end destroy both of them.
The Lost Pages is a richly imagined story of Max Brod’s life filtered through his relationship with Franz Kafka. In this novel of friendship, fraud, madness and betrayal, Marija Peričić writes vividly and compellingly of an extraordinary literary rivalry.
A sample from chapter 1 published by Allen & Unwin.
Find the Buy link at the bottom of the page to purchase the novel.
Marija Peričić grew up in Perth, Western Australia, the child of German and Croatian immigrants. She now lives in Melbourne where she teaches English as a foreign language. The Lost Pages is her first novel.
I still remember the first time I saw Franz; a day that seems now either the beginning of or the beginning of the end of my life’s misfortune. It was October, when the days are still bright and sharp, and Prague was just beginning to fall into the quiet embrace of autumn. At that time I was writing a book about Schopenhauer, and I was to give a lecture on the subject. I had studied Schopenhauer since my university days and, although I am no authority on the man and his theories, I certainly know more about him than most. The lecture room where the talk was to take place was small but crowded, and the shuff ling of bodies and the scratching of pens on paper formed a constant accompaniment to my voice.
I had hardly been speaking ten minutes when a voiced sang out from somewhere at the back of the crowd.
The outburst caused me to pause momentarily. I had just mentioned in passing Schopenhauer’s assertion that this world was the worst of all possible worlds, since a worse world could not continue to exist—an idea with which I happen to agree, its f laws nothwithstanding. I decided to ignore the man and push on with my lecture. Perhaps I had misheard.
But I had not. After a moment he called out again.
‘What a load of shit. Any fool can argue against that.’
The heckler was blocked from my view, but his voice was young and self-important. People began shifting in their seats and craning their necks to look at him. I had given many lectures and talks, but this had never happened to me before and I did not know what to do. Was it better to ignore the heckler and continue, or to answer him? I stood, hesitating. By now the heckler had taken the atten- tion of a good part of the room, which from my perspective had transformed from rows of faces to rows of head-backs and collars.
His voice came once more.
‘You are a fool if you truly believe that. There is an infinite number of possible worlds that are worse than this.’
I cleared my throat. ‘Well,’ I began, ‘problems do exist with—’
‘Consider yourself personally,’ he interrupted.
He stood up and I saw him for the first time. He was of a slight build, dark and handsome in a somewhat delicate way. His handsomeness surprised and angered me.
He went on, ‘I could name a thousand things that could be changed about the world that would make the world worse for you, and it would still continue to exist. You could lose your voice, for example.’
There were a few scattered laughs from the audience. I ignored them.
‘But of course Schopenhauer is not referring to individuals; greater human existence is his theme,’ I said.
‘It is merely an example,’ he said. ‘There could be incremental changes in any condition in the world—choose any one!—and still we would go on. Things can always be a little worse.’
He sat down again, seeming to be satisfied with having voiced his disagreement. I struggled to appear composed, and wavered between countering him, which I felt compelled to do, or ignoring him, which I knew was the more dignified approach. His face peered out from the crowd, goading me, but I resolutely turned my eyes back to my page of notes. For the rest of the lecture, the heckler limited himself to snorts and noisy sighs, but I had nevertheless lost the attention of most of the room. Each of the heckler’s percussive snorts would trigger a chorus of smiles and whispers in the crowd, and by the time I had reached the end of my talk I felt that he had certainly made the world of my evening worse than it could have been.
I was expecting a volley of questions from him during the question time at the end, and braced myself, but he remained silent; indeed, he seemed to have disappeared. Now I could see only a gap in the crowd where his dark head had been. As soon as I left the lecture hall, however, there he was again. He lunged out from the shadows of the corridor and tried to block my way, but I was able to dodge around him. I heard him scurrying after me, calling out my name and then an apology. I walked on. He followed me outside, where he fell into step beside me on the footpath and began to talk about my novel, which had had some success the year before. He f lattered me in an ingratiating tone that I hated, but he piled his pretty words up and up, and soon I had fallen into his trap. I am as vain as the next man and, because I have no grounds for pride on any other front in my life, my writing is my weak spot. Later, when everything lay ruined around me, I thought often about how my life would have been different had I not spoken to Franz* that night, had I been able to resist him.
He walked with me all the way to my house, and when we were at the door he thrust a sheaf of papers at me—his short stories, he said. He asked me to look over them, perhaps show them to my publisher. This had happened to me a good deal since the success of my novel; I admit that I always felt a bloom of pleasure at the request, especially with the inevitable realisation that the stories or poems or novels that were pressed on me were no good—or at least nowhere near as good as my own writing. I acceded to Franz’s request in an offhand way, and then promptly lost the stories among the drifts of paper that covered my desk.
A few weeks later, I found his short stories again and read them, not remembering at first what they were. As my eyes passed over the pages a slow horror grew in me, sending my body cold. The stories were not merely good; they were exceptional. I read them again, and then sat for a long time with the papers in my hands. I turned to the title page and stared at the name printed there: Franz Kafka. How that name would come to haunt me.
I could tell you that I was moved and instantly sent the works to Theodor, my publisher; that I hastened to have Kafka’s work brought out into the world; that I eagerly welcomed what was to become such an important addition to the modern German canon. I could tell you that I felt pleased and proud to bring his work to light, but it would be a lie. All I felt was the sick poison of jealousy, the panic of self-preservation, and a determination to stop Franz at all costs. To show these stories to Theodor would have meant certain death for my literary career, which was at a critical stage. I had had one success, it was true, but now I faced the enormous pressure of cementing my literary reputation with an equally bril- liant second work. I began to have nightmares about Franz: of him meeting Theodor, and the two of them conspiring to thwart me; of Theodor telling me that he was no longer interested in me; of Franz taking my place. I would wake from these dreams breathless and rigid. A terrifying abyss seemed to open in front of me; if I lost my status as a writer, what did I have left?
I wanted to destroy Franz’s stories, and I thought often about it, but I had not yet sunk quite so low. Instead I stuffed them into the drawer of my writing table and locked it. I can say nothing much in my own defence, only that I have not been a fortunate man, nor a happy one, and I was fixed on defending to the death what little I had wrested from the world.
* In the manuscripts Franz Kafka appears as 'F.K.' or 'F-'; we have replaced this with his first name in the interest of consistency.