Friday, March 31, 2017

Review of Franz Kafka's The Trial

The TrialThe Trial by Franz Kafka
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In The Trial, Josef K wakes up one morning to find that he has been arrested. "Somebody must have laid false information against Josef K., for he was arrested one morning without having done anything wrong", says Kafka's first line. For what has he been arrested? We don't know. By whom? We don't know. What next? We don't know. On the surface, this could become a thriller on the lines of any Robert Ludlum novel. But Kafka is not an on-the-surface writer. His strength is to take a totally unlikely situation, and still have the characters react as if nothing is out of ordinary. Just like in Kafka's other famous novel, the Metamorphosis, which starts with the lines "When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin."

Once Josef K. is arrested, he is informed that he can carry on with his life, keep working at his bank, and the only difference from normal life would, at least initially, be that he would be summoned for weekly hearings. K is the sort of person who is successful by normal societal standards - he is respected, has a job where he is his high up in the organization, and is regarded as intellectually capable. However none of these help K. as he tries to navigate the bureaucracy of this puzzling court that has arrested him. He meets a lot of strange characters, talks to a lot of people, but the bleakness of his situation remains. It is like solving a frustrating puzzle where you are destined to lose. Destined is an important word here, for Kafka seems to be making a layered commentary on destiny and the helplessness of an individual while facing life.

To be honest, I found the going a bit difficult at times with The Trial. What kept me at it was Kafka's brilliant sense of humour, all of which is derived from his surrealism. This is not a book for everybody. You can't be sure of what is happening, you can't relate to how the characters react, there is not much of a conclusion, and there is no happiness. If you can look past all of these, you might recognize the brilliance of The Trial.

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