Masterpiece Monday: The Trial

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?”

Masterpiece Monday: Night

Cover of "Night"

Image via Amazon

Rating: 5 out of 5

In case you didn’t know, Thursday is Holocaust Remembrance Day in America, the origins of which date back to 1978 when President Carter created a memorial commission and established Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel as the chair.

Wiesel is most famous for his memoir Night, published in English in 1960. In the novella, Wiesel recounts his experiences in various internment camps during World War II. He discusses the horrific living conditions, the beatings and murders by the Nazis, and his loss of faith in God and humanity. He even comes to see his own father as more of a burden due to the old man’s ever-waning health.

Eventually, Wiesel was rescued by the US army in 1945, but didn’t speak of his past for ten years. Then he wrote a manuscript of over 800 pages, about 100 of which was composed into Night. The book is actually the first part of a trilogy (Dawn and Day as the sequels, respectively), but I have not personally read them. However, Night is the only part of the series that is not fictional.

I read this story in high school, a couple years before Oprah selected it for her book club. It has become synonymous with the Holocaust, and although it is disturbing and graphic, it effectively conveys the tragedy to the public. In fact, I recently learned that when Spielberg directed “Schindler’s List” in 1993, half of high school students in America were not aware of the genocide, and 20% of them denied its very existence. Those figures have since been disputed.

Regardless of that poll’s results, there are still too many people today who are uneducated regarding the Holocaust and other genocides in history. Too many people today still hide behind their bigotry and say these cultural/religious groups deserved their fates.

I’m not Jewish, but I am Armenian, and Armenians also suffered from genocide during World War I. Allegedly, Hitler was even motivated to annihilate the Jews because the Armenians had been massacred relatively unnoticed by the world. April 24 is Armenian Genocide Recognition Day, so I will be returning to this theme next week.

I just want the world to memorialize those whose lives have been lost, and to do all that it can to prevent such tragedies from occurring again. We should never forget the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, and other atrocities, but we should also never stop striving for freedom and peace.

Favorite Quote: “One day I was able to get up, after gathering all my strength. I wanted to see myself in the mirror hanging on the opposite wall. I had not seen myself since the ghetto. From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me. The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me.”