Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1984-2015 Evelyn C. Leeper.


AMERIKA by Franz Kafka:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/19/2015]

I first became aware of AMERIKA by Franz Kafka (ISBN 978-0-805-21161-0) when I saw a Romanian translation in a bookshop window in Bucharest. One of Kafka's lesser-known works, it is of interest because Kafka wrote about his main character Karl Rossman's immigrant experience in America without ever having been to America (or been an immigrant, for that matter). It is full of situations which are, well, Kafka-esque: Rossman's encounter with the stoker on the ship, his visit to Mr. Pollunder's mansion, his encounter in the boarding house, and so on. (The latter almost seems inspired by the scene in MOBY DICK where Ishmael is sent to the room he is to share with Queequeg, except that the roles are reversed, and Queequeg is the late arrival who finds the bed occupied.)

You could guess that Kafka had never visited America from the first paragraph, where Rossman sees "a sudden burst of sunshine seemed to illumine the Statue of Liberty, so that he saw it in a new light, although he had sighted it long before. The arm with the sword rose up as if newly stretched aloft..." As well it might, since the arm now (and then) stretched aloft is holding a torch, not a sword. And indeed the preface indicates that when he wrote AMERIKA, Kafka knew no Americans and very little of the English language. At the time, he described his knowledge of America as, "I know the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, and I always admired Walt Whitman, and I like the Americans because they are healthy and optimistic."

Kafka's notion of the geography of the New York City area seems very "stylized"; one cannot locate the towns (cities?) of Butterford and Rameses and Clayton, but they all seem to have working underground trains and a character very unlike any real suburbs of New York.

Either Rossman is quite precocious, or Kafka lost track of what was going on, because Rossman is only fifteen years and eight months old when he is sent to America for having gotten a servant girl pregnant,

The book ends quite abruptly, while Karl is on his way to the Theatre of Oklahoma. (On the cover of the book and in the Preface, it is referred to as the "Nature Theatre of Oklahoma", but in the book itself, it is just called the "Theatre of Oklahoma".) It is just the last of a series of Kafka-esque episodes Karl finds himself in. The atmosphere of these reminded me of a Cohen Brothers movie, particularly BARTON FINK.

To order Amerika from amazon.com, click here.

"An Everyday Confusion" by Franz Kafka:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/06/2009]

Regarding Kafka's story "An Everyday Confusion", Margaret Boegeman writes, "No one says 'How strange!' or 'How could this happen, that a journey which takes only ten minutes one day, takes ten hours the next, and but an instant to return?' The facts are given them; no one questions them." [in "From Amhoretz to Exegete: The Swerve from Kafka by Borges"] Clearly Boegeman has never dealt with American freeways.

To order The Complete Stories [of Kafka] from amazon.com, click here.


MEOWMORPHOSIS by Franz Kafka & Coleridge Cook:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/13/2012]

THE MEOWMORPHOSIS by Franz Kafka & Coleridge Cook (ISBN 978-1-59474-503-4) begins, "One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that he had been changed into an adorable kitten. He lay in bed on his soft, fuzzy back and saw, as he lifted his head a little, his brown arched abdomen divided into striped bowlike sections." That whirring noise you hear in the background is ... well, you know the rest.

I believe that PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith was the first of the mash-ups, spawning a genre so popular that there is now a publisher (Quirk Classics) devoted to it. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES already has both a prequel and a sequel, and there are also SENSE AND SENSIBILITY AND SEA MONSTERS, THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN AND ZOMBIE JIM, and ANDROID KARENINA. (The latter seems to be the only science fiction in a sea of horror novels.)

I report all this, not because I have actually read THE MEOWMORPHOSIS--frankly, the thought appalls me--but because it seems as though these days whenever someone comes up with a new idea which might be good for a piece of short fiction, it immediately gets extended into a novel, then a series, and then is copied by numerous other authors until one is sick to death of it. As a friend recently said of another fad, "If I never read another Victorian steampunk alternate history, it will be too soon."

To order Meowmorphosis from amazon.com, click here.


THE TRIAL by Franz Kafka:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/23/2004]

However, by coincidence I just finished reading THE TRIAL (ISBN 0-805-21040-7), and what can I say but that it's very ... Kafkaesque? What is the strangest thing about the events, I suppose, is that no one in the novel finds them strange. For example, hearings appear to be held not in some fancy government building, but in a back room in a tenement other occupied by various members of the lower classes. The one problem I see in recommending this book is that its originality will not be as evident as it was to its original readers, because Kafka has influenced so many authors since his time.

[And from "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/24/2004]

Our discussion group read Franz Kafka's THE TRIAL (ISBN 0-805-21040-7) and everyone seemed to have a different opinion. One thought it surrealist, one thought it an attempt to describe a dream, one thought it a commentary on Austro-Hungarian bureaucracy, and so on. My comment was that undoubtedly some high school student will get their chronology confused and write that it is a commentary on the Nazis. (For all I know, some high school student already has.) My feeling was that it was designed to be dreamlike, but incongruous aspects may have underlying meaning. For example, the fact that the court seems to meet behind people's laundry room and so on may be a way of saying that the courts and the legal system and the government are all-pervasive.

To order The Trial from amazon.com, click here.


Go to Evelyn Leeper's home page.