Franz Kafka was born in 1883 in Prague, where he lived most of his life. During his lifetime, he published only a few short stories, including "The Metamorphosis," "The Judgment," and "The Stoker." He died in 1924, before completing any of his full-length novels. At the end of his life, Kafka asked his lifelong friend and literary executor Max Brod to burn all his unpublished work. Brod overrode those wishes.
Breon Mitchell has received the ATA German Literary Prize, among other translation awards. He is a professor of Germanic studies and comparative literature at Indiana University.
Kafka's posthumously published The Trial and The Castle rank among the 20th century's most influential novels. Along with such shorter works as The Metamorphosis & Other Stories (Audio Reviews, LJ 12/95), they demonstrate how existential angst, alienation, and Freudian guilt can be molded into compelling fiction. The Trial, for example, opens with the unexplained arrest of Joseph K., a reputable banker. Never actually jailed, K. carries on with his normal life but with the burden of preparing a legal defense without knowing what he is charged with or who his judges are. His shadowy and often comic "trial" drags on for a year, until he is quietly, and equally inexplicably, executed. Is he guilty? If so, of what? The Castle, too, deals with uncertainty, frustration, and guilt. Its protagonist, also named "K." arrives in a village to take up a position as land surveyor for the imposing castle that looms over the landscape. No matter what K. does, or with whom he negotiates, he never gets close enough to the castle to have his appointment confirmed. Kafka might easily have been forgotten after he died in 1924. Not only did he leave unfinished the books that would later make him famous, he instructed his friend Max Brod to destroy them. Brod instead worked Kafka's chaotic manuscripts into publishable form and vigorously promoted the writer's literary reputation. Scholars have recently reedited Kafka's manuscripts to capture more closely the flavor of his language, and they have unraveled Brod's arbitrary arrangement of Kafka's unnumbered chapters. Moreover, these new editions have been translated by scholars committed to reflecting the author's original German as closely as is possible in English. Better still, Geoffrey Howard has recorded impeccable readings of both books. These Blackstone audiotapes are, apparently, the first commercially available recordings of Kafka's novels. Purchasing them may be the easiest acquisitions decision librarians will ever need to make.ÄKent Rasmussen, Thousand Oaks, CA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
"Kafka's 'legalese' is alchemically fused with a prose of great verve and intense readability."
--James Rolleston, professor of Germanic languages and literatures, Duke University
"Breon Mitchell's translation is an accomplishment of the highest order that will honor Kafka far into the twenty-first century."
--Walter Abish, author of How German Is It