|The Statue of Liberty holding a sword aloft is one of several bizarre images from Franz Kafka's, Amerika/The Man Who Disappeared (1927).|
Amerika (The Man Who Disappeared)(1927)
by Franz Kafka
Unfinished like all of his published novels, Amerika is also the least "Kafka-esque" of Kafka's books, to the extent that one defines Kafkaesque as being the state of being subject to the unfeeling hand of an absent higher power. 17 year old German Karl Rossman is sent to America by his parents after impregnating a 35 year old house maid. He arrives by boat in New York, seeing the Statue of Liberty holding an upraised sword in his hand. There are several bizarre misstatements of fact by Kafka in Amerika- the sword wielding Statue of Liberty, a character from New York telling Rossman to seek his fortune at San Francisco, "in the east;" and perhaps most notably, the existence of a bridge that links Manhattan to Boston.
These mistakes were likely made out of a simple lack of familiarity, but their inclusion heightens the strangeness of Kafka's America, which, in the end, is more like the Central Europe of his other novels than any other version of America from literature. Rossman is beset by events that echo the activities of Kafka's other heroes- he is dismissed by his wealthy uncle via a letter "handed to him at midnight" because he accepts an invitation to go to the country house of a wealthy friend of his uncle.
Later, he is kept inside an apartment and forced to become a servant to a blowsy divorcee who has taken up with one of his earlier travelling companions. Amerika ends abruptly with Rossman still a servant- 20 pages of appended fragments show that Rossman would end up travelling across America. He did not get to do any material on San Francisco or California, which I'm sure would have been amazing.
Kafka, who wrote in the teens, was published in the 20s, and didn't really catch on in English until after World War II, is an excellent example of the unappreciated genius, perhaps the example, considering his aversion to publication and lack of an artistic circle during his lifetime. He ought to serve as the patron saint of the unknown artistic genius- him and Vincent Van Gogh.