A shrewdly intelligent exploration of the life of Milena Jesensk†, best known as Kafka's inamorata, but also well worth knowing for other reasons. Jesensk† first bobbed into view when Franz Kafka's letters to her appeared in print in the 1950s. Since then biographies have been written of her, but none better than this one. Hockaday, a senior journalist with BBC World Service, has drawn on Czech and German sources (many previously untapped) to present an engaging and well-written account of this woman's life. A Bohemian in both senses of the word, Jesensk† was born into a venerable Prague family in 1896. Defiant by nature, she posed nude for artists while still a teenager, had an abortion before she was 20, and traveled with the artistic set. She scandalized her Catholic family by marrying Oskar Pollak, a Jewish writer and coffeehouse habituÇ. Chronically in need of money in postwar Vienna's era of shortages, Jesensk† became a journalist and wrote evocatively about the often frantic, cynical culture of the times. Pollak was a womanizer, and Jesensk† too had a number of liaisons, including one with novelist Hermann Broch, but most famously with Kafka. Hockaday is very good on their relationship. ``Kafka's sense of humour,'' she cannily observes of his correspondence with Jesensk†, ``flashes like glittering veins in the rock of his seriousness.'' Kafka was in his late 30s (soon to die of TB) and Jesensk† was in her early 20s when they began corresponding. He did not live to see the rise of fascism in Austria and Germany, but Jesensk† did. Hockaday elegantly renders her bold struggle against Nazism, her heroic acts on behalf of Jews, and her death in RavensbrÅck, a concentration camp, at age 47. Ignore the melodramatic title. This is a fine book.