in 1916, just before the russian revolution, Benjamin Kantarovitch, nicknamed ôMousy,ö has been asked by a sick friend to deliver a message to an agent in Prague. Believing he was undertaking an important mission under direct orders by Leon Trotsky, Mousy has left his shtetl near Odessa and traveled to revolutionary Prague to rendezvous with a secret agent.
But on the way, Mousy loses the envelope containing the name of the agent he is supposed to meet. In Prague, Mousy mistakenly meets Franz Kafka, who in turn mistakes Mousy for an employee of a literary magazine. Kafka gives him a text, the parable of KafkaÆs leopards, to be published. Mousy misreads the parable as a secret message and a call to revolution. His imagined mission fails, and he returns to his village.
Years later, after immigrating to Brazil with his entire family, Mousy is tapped for the second great mission in his lifeùand a second round of misinterpretations takes place. At the height of right-wing repression around the time of the 1964 Brazilian coup, Mousy gives his fugitive nephew KafkaÆs aphorism and tells him to sell it to an antiquarian dealer in Sa⌡ Paulo. When the federal police stop to interrogate MousyÆs nephew, they discover the text on his person and arrest him under suspicion of bearing a revolutionary message in code. Mousy must now save his unfortunate nephew from prison and redeem his previous misreading of KafkaÆs text.
KafkaÆs Leopards is a masterpiece. A tour-de-force of mistaken identity, misinterpretation and misreading. ùPeter Grandbois, Denison University
ScliarÆs novella addresses themes of Brazilian and European history, Jewish writing, the travels of literature, and a fundamental question of reading: how to judge the rightness or wrongness of a literary interpretation. ùThomas O. Beebee, from the introduction