Books

Book 60: Amerika (The Man Who Disappeared) – Franz Kafka

The American dream isn’t all it’s cracked up to be in this Franz Kafka novel.

As an introduction to Kafka I thought it was decently well written and had an interesting story line. I can only imagine the improvements of the work had Kafka finished the novel in his lifetime and had time to rewrite and edit the novel. As it is the novel has a few interesting quirks pointed out in the preface, like a bridge between Boston (whoop) and New York City, and what appear as the Rocky Mountains just outside of New York City (between NYC and Oklahoma). I’m definitely interested in reading more of Kafka. I have The Metamorphosis on my Kindle, so maybe I’ll get to it soon.

Without knowing how Kafka meant to end the book, one can only surmise on the lessons the novel appears to teach. From the hardship of his forced immigration to the US by his parents, to the abandonment by his uncle, and the indentured servitude to his friends, the protagonist, Karl Rossman has a tough time in America.

I’m not really sure if this is Kafka’s warning against immigrating (or forced immigration) to America, or if it’s an “if Karl can survive all this, then so can you” situation. It reminded me of a line in Miller’s Tropic of Cancer:

“Over there [in the US] you think of nothing but becoming President of the United States some day. Potentially every man is Presidential timber. Here [in Europe] it’s different. Here every man is potentially a zero. If you become something or somebody it is an accident, a miracle. The chances are a thousand to one that you will never leave your native village.” (150)

No matter what happened to Karl he always bounced back (or so it seemed) and tried to find a way to either become an industrious member of society or to quickly escape the position he was in to search for a way to become an industrious member of society.

The rest of the characters throughout the novel are rather droll and caricatured, from the various immigration stories, to the overweight former singer to the various shifty characters. I’m hard pressed to think of a character, other than the Stoker or the Head Cook who are worth mentioning, and those two mainly because they highlight Karl’s inherent goodness when the rest of the world seems out to knock him down a peg or two.

Recommendation: Take it or leave it. If there’s a copy lying around and you’ve nothing else to read, might as well.

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