This is like a stone wall scrawled with graffiti... a note found screwed up in the bottom of a waste paper basket... an impenetrable pool of murky puddle water and more than that... Kafka’s great-unfinished symphony. Because of this, Amerika took me a good three of four attempts to really relax into what Kafka was trying to achieve... (largely because the narrative and central concept are so alien to what the writer had attempted before, but also because of the strong use of language and descriptive phrasing). Kafka’s literature is one of absolute evocation in which his choice of words build on top of one another to paint us a portrait of a time and place that is totally visible within out mind’s eye.
Here, his concern is in the recreation and depiction of events seen through the eyes of a naive idealist. His construction of America itself is the view of an outsider, by an outsider... Kafka had never set foot in America in the entirety of his life, and therefore creates the burgeoning metropolis from his imagination. Through this, we end up with a work that could almost be described as science fiction, though with a strong underlining sense of social-realism and of course, Hollywood melodrama. The images that were conjured in my mind whilst reading the book were like some bizarre juxtaposition of varying cinematic styles, with elements of Fritz Lang’s masterpiece Metropolis (a film visually inspired by the city-scapes of New York city) by way of John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath, shot through with the kind of visual pretension seen in Lars von Trier’s underrated Europa.
There was also a touch of Fellini’s surrealist musical ...And the Ship Sails On with the opening chapter set within the small, claustrophobic cabin of an ocean-liner. Here Kafka’s words practically trip over themselves, as he layers various descriptions that each contradict the nature of the story, to instead, create a visual narrative that will run concurrently alongside the plot. Much of this book relies upon the readers to inject their own imagination into the proceedings, or otherwise, Kafka’s writing becomes almost mechanical in its descriptive delivery. Admittedly, the book is somewhat harder than most in terms of grasping that thread that will lead us into the narrative and allow us to develop that all important connection, but if you are a long-time fan of Kafka (who has already experienced the Trial, the Castle and his celebrated short stories) then I’m sure you’ll find this work worth the extra strain.
The continually dark and noirish atmosphere coupled with the recreation of this surreal and mysterious landscape developed deep within my imagination was the principal factor that I held on to when I first attempted to delve into this book. It finally got me through, as I was desperate to find out whether or not Kafka could keep up this hypnotic use of language throughout... he does. However, the ending is an anti ending due to the fact that Kafka never actually finished the book before he died (another factor that marks out Amerika as a problematic document), but if you are committed to this writer then you shouldn’t let this fact put you off. Half the fun of this book is to continually re-read the work and each time create an ending that you find suitable, and creatively valid (I told you imagination played a big part). Amerika will never be as essential as either the Trial or the Castle (both landmarks of literature) though it is certainly worth a look for those who think they may be up to the challenge.