The Trial by Franz Kafka [Book Thoughts]

The Trial is a surreal book that may or engage or annoy you. Kafka goes the opposite direction to many authors: using the complex to show the simple.
-Imran

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The Trial by Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka is a German author of novels and short-stories, with most of them left unfinished at his time of death and published posthumously. In life, Kafka worked for an insurance company, something he despised but did in order to pay the bills. In death, Kafka has gone on to be considered one of the most ‘influential’ writers of his era (at least according to Wikipedia) and his works have earned him a word of his own: ‘Kafkaesque’. The word refers to the incredibly complex but ultimately senseless situations that show up in his works.

Enter The Trial, originally published as Der Prozess a decade after Kafka wrote it and left it unfinished. The Trial opens with the arrest of poor Josef K., for reasons unknown to him. The two officers that have arrested him don’t know why, and their supervisor doesn’t know why, but K. is assured that those in the know must have had a very good reason since the courts would never arrest someone without good cause. After his arrest, K. is free to go while his trial continues (being arrested isn’t that bad after all). And so a vexed K. attends court sessions, meets with an advocate and makes political connections as he builds a case against his crime.

The Trial is a book in which nothing happens. K. goes to great lengths to ensure that something happens, and the court officials and lawyers go to great lengths to explain why nothing could possibly be happening, but ultimately any hope of something happening would be senseless and futile. The court moves at its own pace, you must understand. And so The Trial starts out funny and then becomes tedious and then becomes inescapably bleak as Josef K. is caught further in an inextricably complex legal web. The world is interesting and Kafka’s absurdist reflection of our own world gives a look into the ridiculous and tedious futility that seems a part of our modern bureaucracies.

The book is intellectual in nature, but it’s also dry and intentionally tedious and so I can’t say that I particularly enjoyed reading it. It’s page after page of explanatory text that, instead of demystifying the situation, only serve to make it murkier and murkier; indeed every line seems to contradict or dis-explain the one that came before it. I suppose it’s funny in it’s own peculiar way and the dialogue is excellent, but I find that reflecting on it more interesting than actually reading it. You might be engaged by Kafka, or you might be put off by him entirely.

Being unfinished, the novel also lacks a true resolution. There’s a massive disconnect between the penultimate and the final chapter that leads me to believe that a lot more was meant to take place before the novel’s sudden conclusion.

The Trial is a surreal book that may or engage or annoy you. Kafka goes the opposite direction to many authors: using the complex to show the simple.

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