I finished the Norwegian translation of Franz Kafka’s ‘The Trial’ a few days ago. It was everything I thought it not to be, and that’s embarrasing since Kafka is one of the most renown writers of the 20th century. Most of Kafka’s work was published after his death, against his own wishes, by his friend, Max Brod. (Although it may be the case that Kafka knew Brod would never burn all his work, as he requested; Brod claims so in the afterword to ‘The Trial.’) The Trial is not the best book I’ve read, but then again, I expected something else, so what to expect?
The part that stood out and which I like the best is the short story “Before the Law” in one of the last chapters. It’s about a farmer that wants to gain access to the law, but the gatekeeper won’t let him in. It’s quite an absurd story, but it fits very well in the context of the book. The main character in ‘The Trial’ discusses the story with a priest, and their discussion is also one of the highlights of the book. In fact, the entire chapter containing “Before the Law” is brilliant.
Kafka has very precise language, and excercises full control over the tone in his writing. I wonder how it is to read him in the original German. If for nothing else, everyone who writes probably has something to learn from Kafka: Begin with the English translation of “Before the Law” (I planned to publish it here, but got second thoughts; you know, copyright and that kind of stuff).