Imagine one day you wake up and you’re accused of a crime. You have no memory of committing a crime, but the authorities come to your apartment and begin to take away your freedoms. They say you must now submit to a mysterious court procedure, but they’re explanations are vague.
This is the bizarre premise of Franz Kafka’s famous novel The Trial. I recently read a collection of Kakfa’s short stories and was eager to read The Trail. I thoroughly enjoyed it. What a strange and delightful book.
Like many of Kafka’s works, this novel was published posthumously. The English translation didn’t appear until 1937, though Kafka apparently wrote the book between 1914 and 1915. Kafka famously told his friend, Max Brod, to burn all his writings when he died. Brod was his literary executor and, of course, he didn’t stay faithful to Kafka’s request (fortunately for us).
I don’t claim to be a super-intellect that can understand all the deep meanings of The Trial. But I do like to read books that challenge me, and this was certainly one of them. Reading this novel was like going to an art museum and staring at an abstract painting – it was less about the plot and more about the multitude of feelings it evoked.
The protagonist in the book is Josef K., a senior worker at a German bank and a rather nervous fellow. The book starts with K. being confronted by two unidentified agents of some obscure court system. For the rest of the novel, Josef tries to understand his trial and the court system and is frequently denied and given the roundabout by various officials.
In The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus dedicates a whole section to Kafka’s writings and relates them to his understanding of “the absurd.” It’s easy to see why. Josef K.’s quest in The Trial is highly absurd and, in the end, he never gets a satisfying answer.
The Trial is the type of book I will definitely read again. It’s the type of book that’s open to so many interpretations. There could be a spiritual interpretation to the novel. While reading it, I got a sense of Kafka’s immense guilt and view of a punishing God. His protagonist is accused for a crime he never committed (original sin?) and he’s forced to undergo a long series of pointless examinations. But that was just my take.
I’m currently reading The Castle by Kafka, which has many of the same themes. Perhaps I’m going through my existential phase. I love the stories and plan on reading and re-reading more Kafka and authors like him, including the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami.
Though The Trial is a very serious read, I recommend this classic for anyone who hasn’t checked it out. Happy reading!