Kafka

I'm a big fan of Kafka's writing. I sometimes wish my German was good enough to read it in the original but sadly "wo ist der bahnhof" and 'Ich habe eine Katzen' hardly constitutes fluency by any stretch of the imagination. Anyway, here is a passage from his unfinished novel 'Amerika' which is great and wonderfully messy and I wish he'd finished it. In it, the main character - Karl - has travelled from Europe to America and is looking at a photograph of his parents...

[...] in which his small father stood very erect behind his mother, who sat in an easy-chair slightly sunk into herself. One of his father's hands lay on the back of the chair, the other, which was clenched to a fist, rested on a picture-book lying open on a fragile table beside him. There was another photograph in which Karl had been included together with his parents. In it his father and mother were eying him sharply, while he was staring at the camera, as the photographer bade him. But he had not taken this photograph with him on the voyage.

He gazed all the more attentively now at the one lying before him and tried to catch his father's eye from various angles. But his father refused to come to life, no matter how much his expression was modified by shifting the candle into different positions; nor did his thick, horizontal moustache look in the least real; it was not a good photograph. His mother, however, had come out better; her mouth was twisted as if she had been hurt and were forcing herself to smile. It seemed to Karl that anyone who saw the photograph must be so forcibly struck with this that he would begin immediately to think it an exaggerated, not to say foolish, interpretation. How could a photograph convey with such complete certainty the secret feelings of the person shown in it? And he looked away from the photograph for a little while. When he glanced at it again he noticed his mother's hand, which dropped from the arm of the chair in the foreground, near enough to kiss. He wondered if it might not be better to write to his parents [...] And with a smile he scrutinised his parents faces as if to read in them whether they still wanted to hear news of their son.


(Kafka, Franz (1996). Amerika, trans. Willa and Edwin Muir. New York: Schocken Book. ISBN 0-8052-1064-4.




kafka in 1906

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