Rating: 2 out of 5
BEWARE: SPOILER ALERT!
It took me almost a month, but I’m finally done with Franz Kafka’s The Trial (1925). Unfortunately, it did not enthrall me like his short stories, but at least I can cross it off my 5 Classics I Really Want to Read list.
The story follows Josef K (referred to mainly as “K.”), a bank official who is arrested on his 30th birthday for a crime unknown to both him and the reader. For an entire year, K. must seek legal advice from lawyers, relatives, love interests, and fellow accused men.
All this effort proves worthless, however, since K. is captured the night before he turns 31. Dragged to a quarry outside of town, he’s placed on a butcher block. Aware that he is supposed to grab the two men’s knife as they pass it back and forth to commit suicide, he refuses and lets them stab him in the heart–in his words, “Like a dog!”
It was not the subject matter which made me dislike The Trial. Kafka’s morbidity is intriguing, and his prose is engaging. Like many existentialists, Kafka’s life was so influential on his work, and therefore extremely fascinating to literary critics.
Born to a middle-class, German-speaking, Jewish family in Prague, Kafka suffered from alienation and self-loathing. His relationship with his father was strained, and his five siblings all died prematurely, his two brothers when Kafka was a child, and his three sisters during the Holocaust after Kafka had died of tuberculosis.
Much of Kafka’s personal life has been left to interpretation, with theories ranging from schizophrenia, anorexia, and homosexuality. A deeply private and troubled man, Kafka never intended to gain fame from his writing. In fact, he explicitly told his closest friend, Max Brod, to burn all his work after his death.
As much as I empathize with Kafka’s wishes, I am glad Brod ignored them. Otherwise, we would have no record of one of the greatest writers of all time. While I don’t consider The Trial Kafka’s best work, I appreciated its reference to another of his stories, “Before the Law.”
Kafka’s own legal background inspired his occupation with the machinations of the government and justice system. If he was not a man without a niche, struggling to find his place in the world, his insights would not be nearly as powerful. It’s simply amazing to think that this novel foreshadows the horror that is to befall Europe in World War II. Although his life could never be described as peaceful, I’m actually glad it ended when it did, rather than witness the tragedy that would take the rest of his family.
Favorite Quote: “Are people to say of me after I am gone that at the beginning of my case I wanted to finish it, and at the end of it I wanted to begin it again?”