Dedicated to classics and hits.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Trial (1925) by Franz Kafka

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Franz Kafka
Book Review
The Trial (1925)
by Franz Kafka

    Seems to me that if you really like a book you'd want to read it AND listen to it.   These days, when you buy a book on a Kindle it gives you the option to upgrade and get the Audiobook for another ten bucks or whatever, but I'm more about reading the physical book, then getting the Audiobook from the library app.  Franz Kafka is one of a handful of Authors who are on my list to go back and listen to the Audiobook after reading the physical book- others are Herman Melville, Virginia Woolf, Henry James- people like that.

  It's also a good opportunity to revisit the weaker "first takes" that I made when I read a book the first time.   I read The Trial in 2014- and I think it was the first time I'd read it- maybe the last major Kafka book/story that I hadn't read at least once.   I didn't retain a lot the first time through- especially compared to The Castle- published in 1926, which I read just before I read The Trial- particularly the initial description of K, the surveyor, entering the town.    The Castle is a much more complete text than The Trial- 416 pages to the 76 pages of The Trial, but you can argue that the shorter length of The Trial is a more plausible success in the digital age of ebooks and Audiobooks, where 420 pages constitutes a big attention span ask.

   If The Trial passed me by the first time I read it, listening to it was a revelation.  Considering all the hub-bub about translating Kafka into English, listening to an up-to-date text felt good.  I'm pretty sure I read the older version.   This time, I really connected with the despotically bizarre descriptions of the Court and the court staff.   Listening, it was the centrality of K's lack of knowledge about what charges he faces was crystal clear.  That lack of knowledge is further compounded by a failure to identify the Court itself- which seemingly only meets in the abandoned top floor of city apartment buildings.

Book Review from 2014:

Book Review
The Trial (1925)
by Franz Kafka

   Hard to figure how Kafka gets three titles into 1001 Books to Read Before You Die and none of them are The Metamorphosis or The Hunger Artist.  I'm under the impression that every high school student in the western world reads The Metamorphosis in high school.  Maybe just my high school?  The book I checked out from the library had The Castle and The Trial in the same volume, with The Castle (published in 1926) first and The Trial (published in 1925) second. It's easy to see why you read the two novels in the same volume: They are both in an unfinished state, and they have stylistic and thematic similarities.  Oh, and the main character in The Castle is called K. and the main character in The Trial is Josef K.

  I would argue that The Castle, with its self-contained snowy village and remote and inaccessible castle, is more fully realized as a locale then the nameless city of The Trial.  That said, as a criminal defense lawyer (Kafka was trained as a lawyer) the nameless criminal trial facing Josef K. struck a resonant chord with me personally.  The idea of being dragged into an endless cycle of criminal charges with no resolution is a fair description of the story of my professional career.  I regularly represent clients that have cases that go on for years at a time, so only the ending of The Trial (Josef K. has his throat slit.) came as a surprise. 

The Commandant (1975) by Jessica Anderson

Book Review
The Commandant (1975)
 by Jessica Anderson

Replaces: The Names by Don Delillo

    When I checked out The Commandant, by Australian writer Jessica Anderson, I was taken aback.  The cover art makes it look like a romance novel- with a drawing of a be-bonneted woman surveying a plantation from an arriving ship.   The Commandant is not a romance novel, but rather an early-feminist-ish work of historical fiction loosely based on the life (and untimely death) of Australian Penal Colony Commandant Patrick Logan, who was murdered by native Australians.

   The feminist-ish part is based on the role of narrator being assigned to the 17 year old sister-in-law of the Commandant, who is there for a visit when the shit hits the fan.  Seems like the editors of the 1001 Books project went a little against the grain by picking this book over Tirra Lirra by the River, which was a huge hit for Anderson and cemented her status as a top-drawer Australian author.


The Red Haired Woman (2017) by Orhan Pamuk

Book Review
The Red Haired Woman (2017)
by Orhan Pamuk

   Orhan Pamuk won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006, and in the decade and a half since his substantial bibliography has received the full English language treatment, including a nearly full set of Audiobooks that are freely available from the Los Angeles Public Library- Turks aren't very popular in Los Angeles.   The question of whether a Nobel Prize win results in widespread English language translation and dissemination for non-English language winners seems to largely track with recency- a writer who wins in the present era gets the benefit of all the recent trends in publishing, but an Author like Naguib Mahfouz, an Egyptian writer and the first Nobel Prize in Literature winner writing in Arabic, who won in 1988, is largely absent from the ebook and Audiobook worlds.

   The Red Haired Woman is the second novel by Pamuk I've read where the action is related to the activities of a travelling 1970's era leftist Turkish theater troupe- the other book is Snow, and I'm beginning to suspect that Pamuk must have himself been involved in this scene (travelling 70's era leftist Turkish theater troupes.)   Here, the troupe is embodied by the eponymous red haired woman of the title, actress, and the devirginizer of the apparent narrator, a wealthy Turkish real estate investor named Cem,  who is forced to revisit his past when he receives some surprising news.

  The first segment of the narrative deals with Cem's experiences as a young man, when he was apprenticed to a old-fashioned well digger who went to work outside the town where the troupe of the red haired woman was temporarily performing.  What appears to be a straight forward recounting of an important coming-of-age episode by a wealthy Turkish businessman begins to twist and turn after the preliminary episode (of the well digging by teen age Cem) ends.

  Suffice it to say, all is not as it appears, and Pamuk does not disappoint.   Istanbul plays a central role, here it is the rapidly expanding Istanbul of 70's and 80's.   The Red Haired Woman isn't a top 3 type Pamuk book- The New York Times actually panned it back when the English version was released in 2017, but I enjoyed the ride, and Turkish language literature is still novel enough for me that I enjoy simply soaking up the milieu. 

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