Monday, January 24, 2011


"A movement without end, a restlessness transmitted from the restless element to helpless human being and their works!" (Kafka, Amerika)

Franz Kafka broke off writing his first novel, Amerika, on January 24, 1913. Though one of the most famous stay-at-homes in literature, Kafka liked to read travel books. His absurdist Amerika begins with young Karl viewing the Statue of Liberty and feeling "the free winds of heaven” on his face. The United States that Kafka depicts is more based upon myth than any real experience of the place. Certain odd details reveal one Continental impression of this land at a time when so many Eastern Europeans were emigrating. That the Statue of Liberty holds aloft a sword instead of a torch and that a bridge connects New York City and Boston unsettle the reading by placing an essentially realist novel close to the realm of fantasy. Much of that fantasy is dark and disturbing, but by the end — first editor Max Brod says Kafka quit while on his intended last chapter — Karl has reached the wide open West, where he seems reborn as a bit actor in “The Nature Theater of Oklahoma.” While I am not a fan of Kafka this is an intriguing novelistic vision of America.

Amerika by Franz Kafka. Doubleday Anchor, New York. 1955 (1927)

Note: This has been retranslated by Michael Hofman in 2004 as Amerika: The Man Who Disappeared

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