Tony's Reviews > Amerika
by Franz Kafka
by Franz Kafka
Kafka, Franz. AMERIKA. (THE MAN WHO DISAPPEARED). (Ger. vers. 1927; this translation 1996). ***. This was Kafka’s first novel, but the last to be published. As far as one can tell with Kafka, he never edited it for publication, with the usual unfinished ending. It actually starts off as if there will be a story and/or a plot, but soon fizzles out to the author’s usual disoriented meandering into a variety of styles and incidents that are only loosely – if at all – interconnected. My belief has now become that Kafka gained his importance through the reflected appreciation of later authors and remains now as a still active minefield for exploration by scholars. The “hero” of the novel is Karl Rossmann, a young man of 16 (or maybe 17) who has been sent off to America from Germany by his family, packed off in disgrace. He got a maid pregnant. This presents a potential prospect for a novel that could go off in any number of interesting directions – but none of them reaches fruition. On board the steamer, Karl meets “The Stoker,” a mis-treated and put-uipon crew member who enlists Karl in his plea for fair treatment. Again we suspect that we might be entering a novel that explores social injustices – but that is not to be. Karl then meets his wealthy New York uncle who introduces him to the city, but Karl doesn’t much care where he is. We learn early on that he is not in our “America,” but his “Amerika,” as he gets his first sight of the Statue of Liberty. The difference in Karl’s case is that his statue holds a sword in her right hand instead of a torch. This is never followed up. We are ultimately subjected to a novel of potentials which are all left to die on the ground. One wonders how many good writers of the time were ultimately overlooked because of all the attention lavished on Kafka?!
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