Why you should read Amerika

Here is an illustration by Bill Bragg for the Folio Society edition.

Synopsis: After engrossing a servant, Karl Rossman is sent to America by his parents.There he will live very unlikely adventures and discover that America is far more different from his homeland than he could ever think.

~ Reasons why you might like Amerika:

1. Kafka’s 1st novel.
Franz Kafka wrote many short stories prior to starting writing novels. If you want to know how he fared as a novelist, you should read Amerika first before moving to The Castle and The Trial.In so doing, you will be able to assess how he progressed to become one of the most eminent writers of all time.

2. Dickensian.
There is a tinge of Dickens’ style in Amerika. Karl Rossman is young,naive and innocent,yet those who populate America are the exact contrary; they are treacherous,violent,lecherous,cruel and tyrannical. Karl,just as any Dickensian hero,will also fall victim to injustice. Moreover, Kafka’s America is similar to Dickens’ London in the sense that in both settings, one doesn’t know what to expect: meeting a benefactor,or crossing the way of a ruthless individual? If you’re a fan of Dickens, you will like the book. 

Reasons why you might not like Amerika.

1. Not Kafka’s best.
Amerika pales in comparison with The Castle and The Trial. I believe that Franz Kafka had no real ambition when writing this book; as opposed to his two other novels,Amerika is only a story,and delivers no message at all.Also,owing to various themes,motifs and ideas being touched, there is no focal point in the story; there is no element of suspense in that book, and at times I was wondering why I was reading it. 

2. The translation.
This shortcoming pertains to all three novels of Kafka’s.When a modern book is translated from a foreign language to English, there is generally no problem in reading it as the English is very fluid-one will hardly know that the book has been translated.However, it is all the contrary when the book is more than 100 years of age.The German used by Kafka was somewhat archaic,and naturally, so was its English translation.In this respect,you might find it hard to read this book,especially if you’re very acquainted with the modern and easy English used by Wilde,Harper Lee,Huxley etc.

3. The ending.
There is no ending; there are just fragments.Sure,almost all novels of Kafka’s were left incomplete, yet most of them are deemed masterpieces.But in Amerika’s case, the ending makes no sense at all; I believe there should been have one or two chapters added before the final one,so that we might better understand what the ending is all about.

Verdict: As you have seen, there isn’t much to say about Amerika. It is a nice read,but certainly not one of the best books of all time. In virtually all chapters, you can sense that Kafka himself is lost and knows not where he wants to take us. The book is also not proportionate; some scenes are preternaturally vivid, while others can be very perfunctory.Thankfully, Kafka made tremendous progress after writing this book! So,would I recommend Amerika to you? No.Although it was not that horrible, there are still many classics that are way better.


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