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The Trial ~ A Capsule Book Review

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The Trial ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

Franz Kafka, one of the most celebrated writers of the twentieth century, was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1883, and died of tuberculosis at the young age of forty in 1924. His famous novel, The Trial, was written in 1914 but not published until 1925, after his death.

The Trial is set in an unnamed city in an unnamed European country. The principal character is Josef K., age thirty. He lives in a boarding house and has an important job, that of chief loan officer, in a large bank. One morning, just as Josef K. is getting out of bed to go to the bank, some men show up at his boarding house and arrest him for a crime. What is the crime? We never know and Josef K. never knows either.

After his arrest, he optimistically believes that it (his arrest) will all just go away if he ignores it and does nothing, but soon he is drawn into an inexplicable and nightmarish world of court procedures that go nowhere, nonsensical meetings with a bedridden lawyer, flirtation with the lawyer’s servant, paranoia, fear, a meeting in a dark cathedral on a rainy day (the person he goes there to meet never shows up, but he has a strange encounter with a priest), flirtation with a woman in his boarding house, speculation and worry about what is going to happen to him and to his position at the bank. (His trial is taking up so much of his time and energy that he hardly has enough energy anymore to do his job.)

So here we have a person, Josef K., with a pleasant life and a successful career whose world is shattered in a flash. Isn’t this the kind of thing that could happen to anybody anywhere? Isn’t it the stuff of nightmares?

The Trial is a less-than-perfect exploration in weirdness, but well worth reading. It contains long, long paragraphs (in some cases going on for pages), but the sentences are not long and tortured, as you might expect, so it is mostly easy to read. The long scenes and long chapters should hold your interest about ninety percent of the time. It’s a novel that might have been improved by some judicious editing. Since the original novel was written in German, I (of course) read it in an English translation. I’d like to be able to see I read German fluently, but if I said it, it wouldn’t be true.

Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp

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