Ms. Diamant and her husband, 52-year-old actor and writer Byron La Due, live and work in this modest two-bedroom cottage built in the 1920s. Sweet-smelling jasmine vine twines around the porch trellis. Ivy, impatiens, geraniums, begonias, and gerbera daisies fill containers on the porch. About the bright red door, Ms. Diamant confesses that on a whim several years ago, days before Chinese New Year, she painted the door with that bright red lacquer. “I was hoping,” she said, “for good luck and prosperity. It worked. That was the year Dora’s book sold.”
Parked outside the house is Ms. Diamant’s 1985 dark blue Honda Accord. A bumper sticker on the back of the car reads, “Don’t follow me, I’m following my bliss.” Ms. Diamant said about her reliable four-door Honda, “I call it ‘The Doramobile,’ for its long service to the cause. I cry when I think of having someday to buy a new car.”
Follow Ms. Diamant into her workroom and you enter a light-filled space reigned over by two cluttered desks and two glowing computer monitors. When not serving as tech support for Gateway, Byron La Due works here, on plays and custom-made mystery events for his company, Mystery Makers. La Due and Ms. Diamant met in 1985, but they didn’t start dating, Ms. Diamant said, “until we were cast opposite each other in The Nerd at the Gaslamp Quarter Theatre Company in 1988. He’s been with me throughout this Dora adventure. He married me — in 1996 — but got us both.”
Wind chimes hang outside the workroom’s front window. The breeze shifts through the chimes, and the chimes ping and swish and ping. Bookshelves, overflowing with books, line the walls. Two framed photographs claim space above Ms. Diamant’s desk. One shows dark-eyed Kafka, and the other shows Ms. Diamant’s maternal grandfather, author Wyatt Blassingame. The rest of the room is taken up with file cabinets densely packed with Ms. Diamant’s research and correspondence. Boxes with drafts of the Dora book are heaped on top of the bookshelves. Nearest Ms. Diamant’s desk is the Dora archive — a dozen or more binders with documents, letters, papers, and translations. The titles on the binders read Bodleian; Klopstock papers; Dora–Letters; Dora–Original Documents; Russian Archive; Düsseldorf; Cahier #1; Cahier #2; Berlin; Lask Family; Marianne Lask. On Ms. Diamant’s desk is a framed photograph of Dora.
I asked Ms. Diamant for a Dora for Dummies lecture.
“Dora, born into an Orthodox Jewish family, was a Chasid and Zionist with dreams of immigrating to Palestine. After Kafka’s death she studied acting and worked as an actress. In the early 1930s, she married a Jewish Communist Party leader, economist Ludwig Lask. In 1934 in Berlin she gave birth to their daughter, whom she named after Kafka — Franziska Marianne Lask. In 1936, Dora, targeted by the Nazis, escaped Berlin for Russia. Escaping Stalin’s purges, Dora left Russia by unknown means in 1938 and was admitted to England one week before Hitler invaded Poland in 1939. There, she was arrested as an enemy alien and sent to an internment camp on the Isle of Man. Following the war, she lived in London, where, before her death in 1952, she was cofounder of the Friends of Yiddish, organizing play and poetry readings in London’s East End to keep the Yiddish language alive.
“Dora has been known — erroneously — as the woman who burned the writing that Kafka did during his last months — his diaries and notebooks and unknown and unpublished manuscripts — and his 35 letters to her. Kafka asked Dora to reduce to ashes any work of his she had in her possession upon his death, a detail my University of Georgia German professor had left out. She didn’t burn the work. She kept it. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Dora’s home in Berlin was ransacked by the Gestapo and every scrap of paper carried off, including Dora’s collection of Kafka’s letters and notebooks and writings.”
I interrupted Ms. Diamant to ask about this carrying off of papers.
“Generally it happened in the middle of the night just like you see in the movies. There would be the truck and the Gestapo. Why they confiscated everything from Dora’s home was that her husband was suspected of being a Communist, which, of course, he was. That’s why the papers were confiscated. They were looking for Communist propaganda.”
Ms. Diamant returned, then, to Dora. “Dora’s views on Kafka and her life story,” she said, “have been largely ignored by Kafka scholars until now — probably because Kafka’s letters to her are still missing. Another reason that Dora was discounted was because it was commonly believed that she was only 19 or 20, as Max Brod [Kafka’s friend and first biographer] reported. One thing my book will do is correct every Kafka biography that claimed Dora was barely out of her teens and that because she was so young they probably had a brother/sister relationship. In fact, when Kafka and Dora met she was quite a woman of the world. She’d been around.”
“She’s pretty,” I said, as I gazed at Dora’s photo on the cover of Ms. Diamant’s book.
“She is pretty. People who knew her say how pretty she was. You look at her pictures, and, well, she wasn’t that pretty. I think that a lot of beauty doesn’t translate onto the page, but there was so much life in her and so much that came out, that people experienced this beauty.”
About Dora’s appearance, Ms. Diamant told me a story that involved Ms. Diamant’s meeting with Luise Rainer, the Academy Award–winning Best Actress in 1936 and 1937: “When I met then 93-year-old Luise Rainer, who had been Dora’s classmate in the Düsseldorf acting classes that both women attended, Ms. Rainer gasped and said: ‘But it is extraordinary: You are Dora’s opposite!’ I was amazed, because I feel so closely aligned with Dora and believe that I understand and share Dora’s thoughts and feelings. But apparently our appearance — or at least the way we present ourselves — is very different. Dora described herself as ‘a dark creature from the East,’ and I’m usually described as ‘cheerful and sunny,’ albeit mostly by those who don’t know me very well.”