Last fall, at long last, I got a copy of Kafka’s Complete Short Stories. (That would be most everything except The Trial, The Castle, and Amerika.) It’s a book to be savored slowly, piece by piece, while imagining it to be twice its length (~ 450 p.). I quickly found the best way to read it is jumping back and forth between the longer stories in the front and the micro fiction in the back.
Franz Kafka – most people love his books or despise them. That’s pretty understandable. He’s not the most accessible of authors. On my part, I fell for his writing after listening to The Metamorphosis; since then, I keep coming back to his books. Back to their chilling simplicity, back to their gloomy, frequently vulgar depiction of society. Back to the endless plots that lead nowhere good!
But of course, there’s more to it than that. There is a lot of truth in Kafka’s world. Absurdity, isolation, irony, and confusion. The real world is not so far off; sometimes it is identical – mazes of bureaucracy and words, the sheer audacity of words. Kafka’s vocabulary is simple, but his sentences are intricate. His paragraphs are monstrosities, and he is making a point the whole time. You feel the claustrophobia in those long, long paragraphs, just as you feel the futility of the protagonists’ repeated attempts at arriving at the solution. You sink into their struggle to follow protocol and responsibilities, while vague frustrations meet them at every turn. The reader need not like the protagonists; I rarely do. It’s the setting that is fascinating, and it’s the conflict that motivates the stories.
I’ll be very sorry to get to the end of Kafka’s writings – that is why I’m glad to be reading this one slowly.