Feb 6, 2013

Amerika

by Franz Kafka

There was a period in high school when I was fascinated with Kafka. I discovered his works quite by accident. One of my teachers had a shelf of books students were encouraged to borrow from and a certain volume caught my eye just because it was smaller than all the rest- hardbound, but nearly the size of a mass market paperback. I started to read it just out of curiosity. It was The Trial. I found it at once both confusing and intriguing, and went on to read nearly all of Kafka's works. Even a few biographies, collections of letters and recorded conversations.

Amerika, his first (but unfinished) novel, remains one of my favorites. It's a bit more accessible than the rest, but still has that very prevalent dreamlike quality Kafka suffuses everything with. The narrative is about a young man named Karl who is shipped off to America after an indiscretion with a maid that he doesn't want to own up to. It tells an immigrant story- the journey on a ship, arrival in New York, search for lodgings and work, his temporary employment in a hotel, getting mixed up with dishonest characters who take advantage of him and cause him to loose his job, falling in with other shady people who practically keep him as a slave in their dirty crowded apartment, and finally getting hopeful about work with a large company so he goes off to apply and wades through endless useless-seeming interviews, paperwork and procedures. All with a totally surreal atmosphere, bizarre turns of events, people saying or doing inexplicable things, places and circumstances obviously construed by a lively imagination. For the author never actually visited America, and so this story is exactly like a dream someone would have of a place they had never been, but of which they had heard many stories and construed their own idea of what it was like, and then their subconscious mind went rampant with that and spewed out this wandering, yet vivid story that seems to reflect the emotional state of a confused young man trying to navigate a new world.

At least that was my impression, and this is just what I remember some twenty years after having read the book. (I did read it several times, though).

Rating: 4/5 ........ 336 pages, 1940

more opinions:
A Hot Cup of Pleasure
Nobody Likes My Taste in Anything
Don't Read Too Fast

3 comments:

Stefanie said...

I really like Kafka. I've read two of his now, The Trial and Metamorphosis. I have Amerika and I look forward to reading it sometime this year (I hope).

Jenny said...

I love your description of this book! The vague dream of America -- it's like that short film of people talking what sounds like English but isn't English, it's just what English sounds like to foreign speakers. (Ish.) (I have been unable to find it in order to link to it.)

Jeane said...

Stefanie- I think The Metamorphosis is my second-favorite, in spite of its dismal premise.

Jenny- I used to sing in church (general congregation, not a performing choir) and would sometimes sing a different verse while listening with half my attention to those around me singing the first verse. It gave me some idea (or so I thought) of what english might sound like to a foregin speaker. Ha.