After reading The Master and Margarita for the Manchester Book Club a few months ago, I had not felt the same frisson of excitement for a book club choice in a long while. That is until the charming Dan brought along some Franz Kafka as one of his selections for October’s read…
Amerika, or The Man who Disappeared follows young European emigrant Karl Rossman, sent out across the ocean by his parents after a naughty dallying with a servant girl. Once he lands in Kafka’s completely fanciful, rather burlesque version of this all-powerful nation, Rossman proceeds to fall into a variety of different, often difficult, situations, involving a cast of characters, often picked up off the street, who transpire to create more trouble for our hapless ‘hero’.
Kafka’s creation is a stereotype through and through. Rossman, the beleaguered young foreigner, travels to the new world to escape his troubles back home in search of a better life. In Ameri(k)a he finds greed and oppression, embodied in both the dubious friends he makes and the capitalist enterprises within which he works.
This was, I’m embarrassed to say, my very first Kafka and those at the book club better versed in his work had an interesting time deciding where Amerika should sit on his role of classic works. General consensus dictated that this was not the best place to start. There is absolutely no doubt that Kafka’s work has incomparable intensity and energy. However silly Karl and the caricatures he meets are, this book is much more readable than I expected, filled with a humour and innocence that allowed me to sympathise with this lost boy. All the same, Amerika did not blow me away in the way I expected from this much-lauded author. The story was much more predictable than I imagined and the disjointed nature of the last couple of chapters of this unfinished novel left me feeling a tad confused. Where was this story going? The beginning of a 600-700 page novel? If so, I don’t think I have the energy!
Here lies an important question…how morally correct was it, all those years ago, of Max Brod (Kafka’s literary executor) to go against his express wishes to destroy his life’s work in the event of his death and publish everything instead? The Castle , The Trial and Amerika are all unfinished. Although, admittedly, this is all I have read of his work so far (more to come…) but is this the unedited, disjointed Kafka the man himself wanted the world to see?
At the end of the day, as a literature ADDICT, I can hardly argue. If Brod had chosen to burn these manuscripts all those years ago and thus leave this precocious talent in obscurity, what would the world have come to? I happily have much more Kafka to read in my life, and I am all the better for it.