‘He took his hand away from his chin, and waved it feebly, as though to indicate at one and the same time the remoteness of Europe and the insignificance of whatever plans might have been made there.’
Amerika was the ﬁrst of Kafka’s novels, but the last to be published. A picaresque and idiosyncratic romp, it follows the adventures of Karl Rossmann, sent away from home after getting a maid pregnant, as he leaves Europe and travels across America. Kafka himself never visited America, and the novel contains many charming idiosyncrasies: San Francisco is situated on the east coast, and a bridge connects New York with Boston.
Part social satire, part coming-of-age novel, Amerika is lighter in tone than the rest of Kafka’s ﬁction, and owes a debt to a writer he hugely admired: Charles Dickens. In his introduction, James Lasdun provides a fascinating exploration of two writers who shared ‘an instinctive sympathy with the downtrodden;an abiding interest in the effect of large, impersonal forces on small, vulnerable human beings’. Their differences however, he says, are equally revealing: ‘In Dickens, the source of cruelty is largely social and therefore amenable to correction. In Kafka, it is intrinsic to human existence.’ This edition is illustrated by Bill Bragg and translated by Michael Hofmann.
Read more about the life and work of Franz Kafka
Franz Kafka is one of only a handful of writers whose names have entered into the vernacular: ‘Kafkaesque’, meaning bizarre, illogical, claustrophobic and, often, the product of a sinister, arbitrary bureaucracy. His three novels, two of which were unﬁnished, were published posthumously by his literary executor against his stated wishes. These books – unsettling, thought-provoking, yet with frequent ﬂashes of humour – have left an indelible mark on modern literature, inﬂuencing many later writers, from Albert Camus and Paul Auster to J. M. Coetzee and W. G. Sebald.
Born in Prague in 1883 to a German-speaking Jewish family, Kafka spent most of his career in the Worker’s Accident Insurance Institute. He hated his job, but was a conscientious employee, who helped many victims of industrial accidents. His work made him sympathetic to the individual faced with the impenetrable tyranny of bureaucracy. In the evenings he worked on his writing, honing his uniquely disturbing vision of the world. These Folio Society editions, published in series with Metamorphosis and Other Stories, are illustrated by Bill Bragg, and use the best available translations, with each book featuring a newly commissioned introduction.
Review by ericbruen on 6th Mar 2013