Book #27: Amerika

Take a minute to appreciate this situation:

I’m from America.

I’m living in Prague. (Somehow I always find a way to bring that up, don’t I?)

Kafka lived in Prague. I live less than 20 minutes from his grave, actually. I’m planning on visiting sometime soon.

Kafka wrote a novel about America.

I read said novel while I was in Prague.

For some reason, that makes me really happy.
Amerika is an interesting, but not completely satisfying, read. Basically, it tells the story of a young immigrant, Karl Rossman, who is forced to move to America after impregnating one of his servant girls. Once there, Karl moves from job to job, trying to “make it” in America.

The plot, then, is pretty basic. What’s interesting is that Kafka wrote Amerika, which takes place entirely in America, without having visited the place. Instead, he researched. The result is a slightly distorted version of America, where the Statue of Liberty greets newcomers with a raised sword, “Senator” seems to be a title like “lord” or “baron” or “count,” and hotels are run through a vast, bureaucratic hierarchy of employees. I don’t know whether or not Kafka was satirizing America, or if some of his information or impressions of America were wrong. Either way, I thought it was appropriate that Kafka’s America was a slightly distorted version of our own. Isn’t that what Kafka’s best at?

Anyway, I enjoyed the writing in Amerika, and I was interested in how prevalent the “American Dream” was in the story. Karl and other immigrants are constantly focused on how their jobs can get them a better position in life. At the same time, there are always ways that they are kept downtrodden or thwarted by vague authority figures.

The only reason that I didn’t enjoy Amerika to its full potential is probably that it’s unfinished. The novel was published, incomplete, posthumously. A few chapters in the middle are missing – there is a gap between where we leave Karl in the second-to-last chapter and where he shows up again in the last chapter. We know from Kafka’s notes that he was planning to move toward reconciliation in the last chapter, but because it isn’t finished, we don’t get to see this.

I wish Kafka had finished Amerika, because I liked it. I just really needed the plot-gaps to be filled in.

Rating: ***
Up Next: The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick


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