My parents belonged to the lost generation, and when I was growing up their drawers were full of old letters, stopped watches, bits of broken history: a Hebrew prayer book, an unblessed mezuzah, nine views of Budapest between the wars. I drew pictures on the prayer book, mislaid the mezuzah, swapped the postcards for Peruvian stamps; and when my parents were dead and I was fully grown I looked at the hoard and saw it was nothing but junk. Then I hired a skip and threw the lot - watches, pictures, letters and prayers - onto the heap of forgotten things, and came up here to start a new clean life; but I rattled the cans of the past behind me willy-nilly.

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There is a man in the village, they call him Mr. Kafka. I do not know if that is his real name. He does not often speak to people. He is very old. Every day he walks down the village in the company of an elderly and asthmatic wire-haired terrier.

He does not speak to people. But he smiles occasionally: a faint and distant, somewhat dreamy smile. In this respect, but in no other, he resembles a little the Kafka of the photographs.

Derek the builder says that he is Dutch. Kafka is a Dutch name. No, no, I tell him, it is Czech, it is the Czech for jackdaw. It is like the writer Kafka, who was born in Prague. Who? The writer. Kafka the writer. The one who wrote The Trial.

Well, you never know, says Derek. And he tells me a story of how people die and come back to life. How young Philip Shackleton, who used to work at the quarry over Dimples Hill, fell into the crusher one day and disappeared. "Never found his body. Just traces of blood in the stones. Next year he turns up in Torremolinos."

The main question, however, is whether there are beams behind my cottage ceiling. Derek taps the plasterboard with his implement.

"Yes, I should think you've got a nice set of beams under there. Pine. Shall I go whoops with the crowbar?"

I say we had better wait a little.

When he has gone I dart across to the Fleece for a box of matches. Mr. Kafka is sitting in the corner over a pint of dark beer. He wears a dirty mackintosh and a buff-coloured hat like James Joyce, and he stares into his beer as though time has ended for him. I consider making conversation, but I haven't the courage.

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When I was a girl I wanted to be Emily Brontë, but this summer I am reading Kafka with all the new enthusiasm of an adolescent. I walk the moors with a book, utterly entranced. I have fallen in love with him. Sometimes I imagine that I am him.

These literary obsessions are hardly innocent. My urge to be Emily, for instance, has altered my entire life. That is why I am here, alone in Brontëland. I grew up determined to live in passionate isolation. Only recently did I realise I had been misled: that she never spent a single day of her life alone in Haworth parsonage.

And now I have chosen to fall in love with Kafka. Kafka, child of the city. Kafka the outcast, Kafka the Jew. He wasn't inspired by spaces, he didn't belong in the hills. He didn't care for weather. He would have hated it here.

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Emily Brontë called these mountains heaven. Today they are referred to as the white highlands. Down in the valley, in the poor town, live the Asians, Pakistanis, Muslims from Karachi and Lahore.

Derek tells me about the first time he ever laid eyes on a Black man. "I just stared." It was in the next village. "Not so exceptional now." "Yes," nods Hilda. "You don't see that many here still; but they're creeping up the valley road."

Hilda is a Baptist, Derek a Wesleyan; or it might be the other way round. They are always sparring. When she hears that I play the piano, she lends me a copy of The Methodist Hymn Book. "You're not the only Jew round here, you know. Mr. Simons who runs the off-licence, I think he's half-Jewish."

I ask about Mr. Kafka. Kafka, I say uncertainly, is a Jewish name.

"I thought he was Polish. Isn't he Polish, Derek?"

"Dutch," says Derek, with conviction. He lights his pipe. "Some sort of a writer fellow, so I've heard."

Then he tells a story about the Irish navvies who helped to build the reservoir. One of them, who was in love with the same lass as his neighbour, took the brake off one of the carts one day and ran him over, and they carried him up to the village, dead. "They said it was an accident," he concludes, "but you ask Ian Ogden and he'll always tell you, murder was committed in this village."

The Greenwoods and the Shackletons all have Irish blood. Derek's great-grandfather was a Sussex landlord. Hilda's used to make boots for Branwell Brontë.

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Twice a week I ride down from the white highlands to the black town. In fact it is more of a grey colour. It has a shopping centre, a cenotaph and a community college. I am learning Urdu.

---------------------------------------Ap ka nam kiya hai?
---------------------------------------Mera nam Judith hai.

On Tuesdays I teach English to a young woman from Lahore. She is recently married: at the moment she seems to spend most of her time rearranging the furniture in the lounge. Every time I visit we sit somewhere else.

As a matter of fact her English is rather more advanced than my Urdu. She has a degree in Psychology. I decide we will read Alice in Wonderland together.

Mrs. Rahim has lovely tendrils of hair at the nape of her neck, and I spend much of the lesson watching her play with them. I also stare at a framed picture of the Ka'ba done in hologram. The mad dream of Wonderland, taken at such protracted length, makes no sense whatever: we might as well be reading Japanese.

Mr. Rahim pops his head around the door: a cheerful face, a white kurta. He is carrying a live chicken by the legs. Shortly afterwards I hear him killing it in the kitchen.

As I leave the house at five the children are making their way to mosque to learn Koran: boys in white prayer caps, solemn little girls in long habits. I remember that a Jew should not live more than half a mile from a synagogue, to prevent the desecration of the Sabbath; nor can he pray the services alone. Ten men are required for a congregation; though they do say that a Jewish woman is a congregation in herself.

It is getting dark, and all the shops, the Sangha Spice Mart, Javed Brothers, the Alruddin Sweet Palace, are lit up like Christmas. I am filled with nostalgia for something I never had.

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Today I read the following lines in my Introduction to Kafka:

More than any other writer, Kafka describes the predicament of the secular alienated Jew. Yet his work, so personal on one level, remains anonymously universal. He has no Jewish axe to grind. Nowhere in any of his fictions does Kafka mention the words Jewish, or Jew.

This seems to me remarkable. Can it be so? I resolve to make a thorough survey. There must be the odd Jew somewhere that my commentator has missed.

I cannot escape the impression that this is a pat on the back for Kafka. Yet they seem rather a sad conjuring trick, these disappearing Jews. A bit like that author who composed an entire novel without using the letter e.

The Brontë sisters did not recoil from mentioning Jews. I know all their references by heart. Villette has an 'old Jew broker' who 'glances up suspiciously from under his frost-white eyelashes' while he seals the heroine's letters in a bottle; but at least he does a satisfactory job. Charlotte describes her employers, 'proud as peacocks and wealthy as Jews,' but I have never liked Charlotte much. There is a 'self-righteous Pharisee' in Wuthering Heights, and in some ways I am grateful Emily did not live to finish that second novel.

The Brontës, of course, are often praised for the universality of their work. Especially Wuthering Heights, which is extremely popular in Japan. All of which goes to disprove our professor's thesis: in order to be universal you don't have to leave out the Jews.

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I may change my mind about ripping down the ceiling in my cottage. It is a perfectly good ceiling, after all. A little low, perhaps - it gives the room a constricted feeling - but it covers a multitude of problems. Exposed plumbing, trailing cables, not to mention the dust, the spiders. And there may not even be any beams behind it.

"Can you assure me categorically that the beams are there?"

"Put it this way, I'm ninety-nine percent certain." Then Derek tells me how once, when he was pulling down a ceiling at Egton Bridge, he found a time capsule hidden in the joists. "One of those old tin money boxes with a lock. But it wasn't mine, so I gave it to the owner and he broke it open." What did they find? "A bit of a newspaper, five old pennies and a picture of a naked lady."

I say we will hold off on the ceiling for the time being. I ask him to tell me more about Mr. Kafka. Has he lived in the village long?

"I can't rightly say. Have you seen his place? That cottage on back lane with the green door: looks like a milking shed. The one with thistles growing out of the doorstep." In winter the thinnest trail of smoke came from the chimney. Sometimes the children played round there, but their parents didn't like it. Sometimes the old man tried to give them sweets.

No doubt the council were trying to get him rehoused. But, though he was a foreigner, he had Yorkshire tenacity: he wasn't moving for anyone.

I stop asking questions about Mr. Kafka. I am suddenly embarrassed, as though by taking a special interest I have linked myself to him. It is a kinship I would prefer not to acknowledge.

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Not long before she got married, Mrs. Rahim's father died. She nursed him herself for three months before the wedding. When he died she felt a great peace in her heart, as though she could sense him entering the gates of paradise.

Even so, he was always very close. Sometimes she was certain she could hear him talking in the next room. When she opened the door there was nobody there, but the room was filled with a feeling of warmth and love.

We are talking about death, and we are not making much progress with Alice in Wonderland. Death is less perplexing: we share many certainties regarding it.

"I think they are still here: I think they are listening," says Mrs. Rahim. "My father suffered very much. But he is happy now."

Mrs. Rahim reaches for her big torn handbag and brings out a man's wallet, worn, old-fashioned, foreign-looking. It is stuffed with papers covered in tiny handwriting. She clasps the wallet between her palms and holds it to her nose: sniffs deeply as though it is some redolent flower.

"I always keep it with me. It is like him."

I have a cold. She makes me milky tea boiled with cardamom, ginger and sugar. She slips a dozen bangles up my arm. Later, in an aura of almost sacred comradeship, we look at the Koran, which she carries to the table wrapped in a silver cloth.

She cannot touch it, she explains, because she is menstruating. Nevertheless I turn the pages for her reverently as she reads. She reads beautifully. I dare not tell her I am menstruating too.

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"Kafka. K-a-f-k-a. Kafka."

"What sort of a name is that, then? Is it Russian?"

"No, it's Czech."

"Have you tried under foreign titles? I don't think we have any books in Czech."

"He wrote in German, actually. But he's been translated."

"Oh, look, it's here, Jean: someone must have put it back in the wrong place."

A robust copy of The Trial, wrapped in institutional plastic: they leave me to it. Avidly I check the date stamps and the opening page.

Why do I do this? It's a symptom of the literary obsessive: merely the desire to see the cherished works in as many editions as possible. As though one could open them up and discover new words, new revelations. I myself possess four different copies of Wuthering Heights. With Kafka, it is something else. I need to see which translation it is. This I can tell immediately, from the first sentence. "Someone must have traduced Josef K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning." I don't like 'traduced.' It's an immediate stumbling block. A lot of people don't know what it means. "Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning." That's better. Comprehensible. This copy is a traduced.

I didn't expect the people of Brontëland would have much call for a book like The Trial. There would be a few lonely borrowings, half-hearted attempts, defeated best intentions. But I get a surprise. The label is a forest of date-stamps, repeated and regular, going back years: there are even a couple of old labels pasted beneath with their columns filled. I pick up The Castle. That will be different, I think: everybody reads The Trial. The Castle is, if anything, just as popular. There is a kind of frenzy in the frequent date-stamps which suggests, even, a profound need for Kafka in Brontëland.

It could all have been the same borrower, of course.

I leave the library with a strange reverence. It is as though the town and its cenotaph carry a peculiar secret, which I have stumbled on in the pages of a book. I see them for a moment with different eyes.

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Having soaped my arm to remove Mrs. Rahim's obstinate bangles, Hilda has lent me another book, John Wesley in Yorkshire. I thank her politely. I have not yet learnt any of the pieces in the Methodist Hymn Book.

My front door is open. Derek strides in, a big rangy man, and without a word he buries his pickaxe in my smooth white ceiling. It smashes up like papier mache. He grins a long sideways grin.

"By heck, I hope I'm right about this."

He heaves at the plasterboard with all his strength and it comes crackling down, along with a shower of dirt and beetles which covers us both.

My beams are there. My revelation. The double crossbeam, backbone of the house: the ribwork of joists between. One has a blackened bite taken out of it where the oil lantern used to be. All are hung with a drapery of webs. Not so beautiful just now, perhaps: but when I have scrubbed them and scraped them, sanded and stained them, varnished them three times with tender loving care, they will be magnificent.

Derek stoops and picks out something from the heap of dirt: a piece of metal wrapped in a strip of cloth. "Old stays," he mutters. He raises his eyes to the ceiling. "Lady of the house must have been dressing herself up there," he says, "and dropped 'em through the floorboards. An heirloom for you."

He hands it ceremoniously to me. I use it as a bookmark.

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When he has left I go for a walk on the moors. The sun is setting: lights are coming on in the valley. Someone is walking towards me down the moorland track.

It is Mr. Kafka. He is following his slow dog down the hill to the village. He has nearly finished his walk, and his head is bent, contemplatively.

I wonder whether to acknowledge him. I am afraid to disturb his silence. He does not often speak to people. Sometimes he nods a greeting to those he knows.

As we pass each other my voice chokes in my throat, I can say nothing; but I manage a smile. Our eyes meet; he smiles back at me.

It seems a smile of recognition, and for the briefest moment he resembles once more the Kafka of the photographs.