Jim Coughenour's Reviews > The Trial

The Trial by Franz Kafka
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's review
Jul 24, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: european-fiction, darkandfunny
Read in July, 2012

Someone must have been telling tales about Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything wrong, he was arrested.

Not quite as bad as waking up as an insect, but bad enough. I haven't read Kafka for 20 years; I'd forgotten how funny he was. Which doesn't stop this book from being a nightmare that doesn't end soon enough.

There's a fable embedded in The Trial, almost at the end, in which a priest tries to explain to K. the meaning of what's happening to him – a miniature instance of the tale of the Grand Inquisitor buried within The Brothers Karamozov. The fable itself is dark and full of bitter wisdom, but Kafka's genius comes through in the commentary, or rather the history of its commentary as related by the priest, all of which is fascinating (and hilarious in its variety) but hardly helpful. Poor K. keeps pressing at the contradictions within the tale, which he desperately needs to resolve. The priest chides him.

'One doesn't have to take everything as the truth, one just has to accept it as necessary.''A depressing opinion,' said K. 'It means that the world is founded on untruth.' The priest does not correct him "even though it certainly did not correspond to his own opinion."

In the end it all ends badly as it must. It's tempting, it's impossible not to try to translate all this into a smooth, definitive meaning, but it can't be done. As the priest points out, "correct understanding of something and misunderstanding of the same thing are not entirely mutually exclusive.... What is written is unchanging, and opinions are often just an expression of despair at that."

This short book isn't for the faint of spirit. Claustrophobic, composed with the careful logic of a terrible dream, sharpened with satire – it's astonishing.

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