Franz Kafka – The Trial

*The following information applies to an English hardcover edition. (the novel was originally published in German in 1925).*

Author: Franz Kafka
Translator: Richard Stokes

Title:  The Trial
Published: 2005
Publisher: Hesperus Press
Length: 210 pages
Genre: Philosophical literature
Target age: Adult
Why I picked it up: On my TBR list
Rating: —-
Challenges: Global | 100+
Buy: Chapters | Barnes and Noble | Check your local bookstore!

I’m not giving this a rating because (and I cringe to say this) it totally went over my head. This is the first time I’ve ever read a book that I didn’t really understand at all! I know I didn’t not like it but I have no idea what to think. I believe I set expectations too high for this novel and for myself. After hearing so much about Kafka (and the term ‘kafkaesque’) and falling in love with Kafka on the Shore, I thought upon finally reading one of Kafka’s greatest works I would have some sort of philosophical epiphany. Didn’t happen, obviously; that’s an unreal expectation for any work of art, but that’s the kind of daydream I have: that after reading a great work of literature I will have some sort of revelation. Perhaps it’s because I was so focused on ‘getting something’ out of this text that I didn’t get anything out of it. There are so many ways you can interpret the metaphor of The Trial that I didn’t know what it could mean for me and instead of focusing on the book and thinking critically about all I was reading, interpreting the story for myself, I just kind of finished it and left myself in the dark. In a few years time I will tackle this again and hopefully I will have greater success. All that being said…I have inklings of ideas regarding what this novel is about, for me. But they’re just that, inklings, swirling bits of thoughts that don’t really amount to much. Hopefully those inklings will grow upon a reread in the future.
A comment not wholly related to the text itself…I have an issue with reading a work that the author clearly did not want being read. It makes me squirm and feel uncomfortable. As I writer myself, I cringe at the thought of my stories being widely published after my death. There were reasons why Kafka didn’t want his work out there, his unfinished and unpolished work. I can’t help but wonder what he would have done had he properly finished The Trial and I also wonder what he would think of its success and interpretations today. I feel sort of like a child sneaking a cookie from the sacred cookie jar. Morals, gah. I would feel a whole lot better upon completing this book if Kafka had actually intended for it to be set loose on the world.
 

Milan Kundera – The Unberable Lightness of Being

Author: Milan Kundera
Title:  The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Published: 1984
Publisher: Harper & Row
Length: 314 pages
Genre: Philosophical literature
Target age: Adult
Why I picked it up: On my TBR list
Rating: 4.5 stars
Challenges: Global | 100+
Buy: Chapters | Barnes and Noble | Check your local bookstore!

It appears I’m on a bit of a philosophical, deep-thinking, big picture, meaning of life kick in regards to the type of books I feel like reading lately. (I’m going to look for some Kafka at the library tomorrow). I started this book a few weeks ago, couldn’t really get into it, but I picked it up again a few days ago, thought of it in a different light and devoured it. I am enjoying exploring writing styles that are very different from what I had become accustomed to reading and content that really pushes the boundaries of how I think and perceive ideas. That summarizes my overall satisfied experience with this novel; I’ll delve more into something of the notes I made while reading this book.

This is a novel mostly about three things (in opinion, the most important themes for me, etc, etc.): types of love, what it means to be human and revolution. Which, of course, are subjects full of ideas that are very fascinating for me to explore. I liked how each topic was delved into, providing different perspectives from the views of four different characters. The setting and time period of the novel (Czechoslovakia around the time of Warsaw Pact invasion [a topic of which I now have some knowledge about due to reading this novel and then looking up the events on Wikipedia]) provided a good backdrop in/on which to explore these ideas.

It took me awhile to get a hold of the narration style. At first I was really confused, then I thought maybe I understood, but I didn’t want to assume, so I kept on being confused until I could clarify for sure that who I thought was narrating was narrating (wow, this must be the most convoluted sentence I’ve written since NaNo XP). ANYHOW. The narrator, I eventually grasped, is the author of the novel. However, I wasn’t sure if this was intended to be Kundera or if ‘the author of the novel’ is a character in him/herself. It’s an interesting thought/POV, one I haven’t encountered much (or probably ever) and one I will definitely think about when I reread this book. An excerpt (bits like this aren’t too common, but I absolutely love them, being a writerly type myself):

I have known all these situations, I have experienced them myself, yet none of them has given rise to the person my curriculum vitae and I represent. The characters in my novels are my own unrealized possibilities. That is why I am equally fond of them and equally horrified by them. Each one has crossed a border that I myself have circumvented.

 My last little note is on chronology. Really, it just jumps all over the place but it in a very orderly and connected way. I wouldn’t even really be thinking about it if it weren’t for the one event that is mentioned every now and then throughout the story and that is Tomas and Tereza’s deaths (this isn’t really a spoiler, there’s a statement at one point that just throws this fact at the reader but I can’t remember where it was. It was in a chapter about Sabina and the fact that Tereza and Tomas die together in a car accident is just thrown in with some other facts. This is also mentioned in couple of other places long before the actual event takes place. If I was writing about this book for an English class, that would be something I would probably pick apart and analyze but honestly, I would have to read the book again and make note of the times that incident crops up to better understand it. It felt, not awkward, but not natural, and I feel like it was there for a reason. Another something to look for when I reread this book, I suppose!

 

Extra Books – February 28 to March 6

  • Zen Keys by Thich Naht Hahn
    • Published: 1994
    • Genre: Spiritual non-fiction
    • Why I picked it up: Pursuing an interest in Zen Buddhism
    • Rating: 4.5
    • Challenges: 100+
    • My Thoughts:
      • A very handy, insightful little book. Very good at explaining the concepts that fuel Zen Buddhism, very helpful for a beginner like me. It’s a very book XP
  • The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
    • Published: October 1926
    • Genre: Modernist fiction
    • Why I picked it up: On my TBR list
    • Rating: 3 stars
    • Challenges: 100+
    • My Thoughts: 
      • I am definitely a fan of Hemingway’s style, that much can be said. I wonder what it would have been like to read one of his books 80 years ago, when his style would have been so shocking and different?
      • The story, well, I can’t say I enjoyed that as much. It for sure picked up in the last 100 pages or so, but I didn’t feel very drawn in. It felt like a small story, just a quick little thing to read through in a sitting. I also think this is one of those books where historical context is very helpful in understanding/’getting’ it, as I felt I understood the book more once I read it’s Wikipedia page…
      • On a bit of a sidenote, I wonder if reading Wiki pages after finishing a book is making me lazy or not…I like to think it isn’t. I do put a lot of thought into a book while I’m reading it, I make my own notes and jot down questions. I think reading up on the book some more after finishing it helps fills in the cracks that I didn’t understand.
  • Zombicorns by John Green
    • Published: February 2011
    • Genre: Zombie apocalypse fun slush
    • Why I picked it up: It’s by John Green!! (I donated $20 to the P4A for this, but you can read it here).
    • Rating: 4 stars
    • Challenges: 100+
    • My Thoughts:
      • I don’t know if my rating counts for this because it isn’t your typical published book. This was written to be an intentionally-bad zombie apocalypse novella, but I still found it a fun and enjoyable read. It obviously isn’t quite up there with the rest of John’s works, but it is fun and gory and light but heavy and intelligent. If you’re a fan of John or zombies I would recommend this book, for sure.

Extra Books – February 21 to 27

  • The Art of War by Sun Tzu
    • Why I picked it up: Another book for school reading
    • Rating: 3
    • Challenges: 100+
    • My Thoughts:
      • Well, this isn’t really a novel or nonfiction book that I can review properly. It really depends on what translation you have, but I didn’t really pay attention to the translator’s notes/interpretations. On the whole, a very handy little book. I love stuff like this that’s still relevant and meaningful thousands of years later.
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
    • Published: September 1961
    • Genre: Historical fiction/satire
    • Why I picked it up: On my TBR list
    • Rating: 4.5 stars
    • Challenges: 2011 TBR Pile | 100+
    • My Thoughts: 
      • I FINALLY FINISHED IT OMG. I buckled down on Tuesday and read 300 pages or so. 
      • I really did enjoy this book, promise. I’ve never really read any war novels or books so satirical as this one, so this was a first for me. I can see why everyone makes such a big deal about it, though! I love the balance of humourous and serious moments. When you finally read about the event that transformed Yossarian, it’s pretty heartbreaking. 
      • Hrrm…it’s too big for me to reflect upon -.- (yeah, I’m being lazy XP I have a lot on my mind right now, gah).
      • I particularly liked Yossarian, Major Major and the chapters about Milo (although I didn’t like Milo himself, of course).
      • I particularly liked The Soldier Who Saw Everything Twice. There were lots of other parts I remember. But that one sticks in my mind :/ And the chapter Colonel Catchart. Silly Colonel.
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
    • Published: September 2006
    • Genre: Post-apocalyptic fiction
    • Why I picked it up: Needed to read it for school
    • Rating: 4 stars
    • Challenges: 100+
    • My Thoughts:
      • I am in love with the writing style used in this book. There isn’t much more to say there XD Everything about it, I love. This book will probably serve well as future inspiration.
      • In class we discussed how it isn’t really about two characters, it’s about the relationship. I completely agree. The portrayal of the father/son relationship is part of what makes this book so strong.
      • Sometimes with the pronouns it would get confusing. Because it’s just ‘the man’ and ‘the boy’ so all pronouns are he and I got a little lost in some sentences. But that’s an exceptionally minor complaint.
      • I was highly disappointed in the last five pages or so, however. SPOILERS AHEAD.
      •  
      • I was quite prepared for the father to die of his illness, but I thought there would be more tragedy. I was sure the boy was going to die also and I thought it would be at the hands of the bad guys or the man being forced to shoot him. Alas, it was not so. The ending of the book was the least emotional part for me :/ Oh well, at least I was more invested in the style of the book than the story!

Ray Bradbury – Something Wicked This Way Comes

Author: Ray Bradbury
Title:  Something Wicked This Way Comes
Published: 1962
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Length: 289 pages
Genre: Light fantasy/horror
Target age: 12+
Why I picked it up: Inspired Neil Gaiman
Rating: 3.5 stars
Challenges: 100+
Buy: Chapters | Barnes and Noble | Check your local bookstore!

What a fun read! A bit scary, of course. But enjoyable. I rarely rarely read ‘horror’ (I can’t even think of a solid example of something ‘horrorish’ that I have read), but this is probably the closest I’ve come to horror in a fictional novel format. I honestly didn’t find it very frightening or terrifying or anything. My favourite aspects of the book were the characterization of the boys and Bradbury’s writing style.

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I started this book. I think I was anticipating more story/plot than character, but I ended up really liking Jim and Will more than I liked the plot. An excerpt of how Bradbury describes the boys:

The trouble with Jim was he looked at the world and could not look away. And when you never look away all your life, by the time you are thirteen you have done twenty years taking in the laundry of the world.

Will Halloway, it was in him young to always look just beyond, over or to one side. So at thirteen he had only saved up six years of staring.

Will and Jim may be well-established archetypes of young boys(Jim, the darker, mysterious, more mature; Will, the more innocent, cautious, tag along) but placed in Bradbury’s hands and executed with his style they come alive in a refreshing way. I also liked how the relationship between Will and his older-than-average Dad played out; I liked how the Dad was eventually a major character.

Bradbury is also evidently a master of the short sentence, long sentence style. I hope this isn’t just something I’m making up; hopefully you understand what I mean. He’s very very good at the short sentences and he’s also very very good at the rambling ones. He knows how to place every word he chooses to use. A rambling sentence:

A carnival should be all growls, roars like timberlands stacked, bundled, rolled and crashed, great explosions of lion dust, men ablaze with working anger, pop bottles jangling, horse buckles shivering, engines and elephants in full stampeded through rains of sweat while zebras neighed and trembled like cage trapped in cage.

And some of the shorter ones:

The sun rose yellow as a lemon.
The sky was round and blue.
The birds looped clear water songs in the air.
Will and Jim leaned from their windows.
Nothing had changed. Except the look in Jim’s eyes.

These examples also shows you what I like about his descriptive prose. I find passages like the one above, combined with shorter, handful of word paragraphs, are a pleasure to read. I get this feeling of very clean, sharp, vibrant prose from Bradbury. Everything he writes is used just right. I think I could learn a lot from this book. Bradbury’s style is very good. I am not very eloquent, forgive me, all I can think of is ‘very good’. But I think he writes with a good style, one that holds up against the test of time. If I could write half as good as Bradbury does, that would be a nice start. I look forward to exploring his other works.

The merry go round was running, yes, but…
It was running backwards!
The small calliope inside the carousel machinery rattled-snapped its nervous-stallion shivering drums, clashed its harvest-moon cymbals, toothed its castanents, and throatily choked and sobbed its reeds, whistles, and baroque flutes.
The music, Will thought, it’s backwards, too!

 Afterthought: Yes, I did immediately notice some parallels between this and Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord. I liked Cornelia’s story a lot more, but it does make me wonder if she was inspired by this one. Which wouldn’t at all be a bad thing! I’m just curious about things like that.