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Anyone ever read The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka? Probably the fewer amongst us. Kafka is not every man’s thing. On my quest for learning something about the literature of other countries I decided to see what this Kafka was all about. Perhaps I am especially honoured to be able to read Kafka in original German, although he was born in Prague, Czech Republic, so most probably he was not writing in his mother tongue.
Anyhow I started with The Castle and got my first taste of strange; a castle governing the surrounding village with beaurocracy. The main character in the book wanting to arrive at the castle. His ways followed many paths, but did he get to the castle? To be quite honest I am not sure, but I do not think he did. So is Kafka, full of unanswered questions. Then I decided to read The Process. A man accused of a crime, although what the crime was is still shrouded in mystery for me. He was subject to a process and found guilty and I think, am almost sure, he faced a death sentence at the end of the book. Sorry for being a little uncertain, but Kafka has a way of uncertainties. The Verdict had about six different endings. Either Kafka could not make up his mind, left the end open, or a few other authors tried to conclude the novel. Actually I quite enjoyed the book, but it was an exhausting experience.
I am not a wise reader, just enjoy reading and Kafka is an adventure in itself. Now to my favourite book written by Kafka which is such a favourite that I read it twice to make sure I did not miss anything. I am now returning to The Metamorphosis. A man, Gregor Samsa, awakes one morning and finds he is laying on his back in bed. Nothing strange, but Gregor awakes with six spindly legs. Overnight he has become a sort of beetle. His human body has undergone a metamorphosis. He eventually manages to turn his body after many strenuous attempts, landing on his legs. He hides from everyone. What will mum and dad say? What will anyone think?
Of course Kafka is not just telling a tale of mystery and horror. He is showing what happens when you are an outcast, no-one wants to know you, let us just ignore him and he will go away. The story takes many twists and turns. The only person that bothers about this transformed human body is Gregor Samsa’s sister. She brings him food, looks after him, but even her patience is eventually exhausted. At one stage in the story Gregor becomes the victim of assault. An apple is thrown at him and embeds itself in his armoured back. Needless to say this does not help. Eventually Gregor is left alone in his room, the sister abandons her brother and he dies, shrivels into a dried insect, still with a rotting apple wedged in his back. The End – Kafka was never known for happy endings.
This is not a homage to Kafka and if I could write in his style I would have received my Booker/Nobel/Pulitzer prize many years ago, plus selling movie rights to the films of my books. Even Kafka has been filmed. Generally in black and white which fits the bleak subject matter of his writings. The Trial was filmed with both Anthony Perkins and Anthony Hopkins in the leading role. The Castle was a German production with the late Ulrich Mühe, who is probably not known by most of the readers.
Metamorphosis is a book that left an insect trail of tiny footprints in my mind. I just love the strange and mysterious. So if you go to bed in the evening and think tomorrow is going to be just another day, think about Gregor Samsa. You might awake to be someone different. Just remember all the people you know that are different, perhaps isolated, ignored, like Gregor Samsa.
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