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on 15 August 2003
This book has been taking up space in my cupboard for a few months, since I had to read metamorphosis for my English degree. Yesterday I picked it up again, having graduated, and have only put it down since to write this.
Kafka is perhaps the most brilliant writer of the last century in perception and the way he can imaginatively express his ideas. 'Metamorphosis' is the most famous tale here, using the central metaphor of a man who awakes to find himself transformed into an insect, but the other stories have just as much to offer.
I was particularly surprised by the early 'Meditations' that appear here. The Editor notes that Kafka told his publisher to stop printing them, embarassed by what he saw as his early failings. This view is not born out by the shorts that appear here, each one taking a situation, observing the human behaviour taking place with humour but sympathy. Kafka makes the reader aware of the absurdity of his characters actions, but at the same time we are led to inherently understand the reasons for them. He never sacrifices a basic humanity.
'The Judgement' and 'The Stoker', the latter of which is the first chapter of the uncompleted novel 'Amerika', are strikingly effective stories. Any fans of Ishiguros 'The Unconsoled' should read these to see where that writers style comes from.
Kafka seems to be able to render the uncertainties, and lurking terror in the commonplace situations that take place in the modern world, in a light which every reader can share in. He expresses the inexpressible, instinctive doubts that anyone can feel at certain times. The unlikely situation of the one page parable, 'The Sudden Walk', is perhaps my favourite, as he depicts the sudden euphoria of taking action, in however small a respect. Again, we see the slight absurdity of the feelings this arouses, but see the subjective truth in them.
This collection has reinvested my faith in the sublime quality of literature that appears too rarely these days. I will definitely be reading the novels. A necessity for all literature fans.
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There are lots of books called "Metamorphosis and Other Stories." I acquired this Penguin Classics edition translated by Malcolm Pasley and found that Metamorphosis and In the Penal Colony were the only stories common to my previous Penguin Modern Classics book of the same title. My review is of a number of pieces in the Malcolm Pasley version (which comprised all of Kafka's writings published in his lifetime).


I first read this when I was 16. All I recall is the weirdness of a man turning into an insect. I am glad to have re-read it over 30 years on. As usual, I have found that the distance in time gives a different perspective. The reasons for Gregor's transformation are not revealed nor does any character in the story appear to have any curiosity about it.

The thing that strikes me about Metamorphosis in re-reading it is the transformation that takes place in Gregor's family. Before turning into an insect, Gregor had been the family's breadwinner after his father's business had folded. The rest of Gregor's family had become rather indolent and helpless. Now that Gregor has metamorphosed, they too have changed. Fear, concern, anger and eventual indifference are inspired by Gregor's plight and eventually, they become more decisive and industrious as individuals. Once this transformation has taken place, the insect Gregor dies and becomes merely an oversized and forgotten insect husk.

In the Penal Colony

This is a Gothic tale of an explorer who visits a penal colony and most of the visit concerns a description of a hideous machine of torture and execution by an enthusiastic prison officer which is about to be used on some hapless prisoner. Much of the tale is about the morality of using such a machine.

The Judgement

This is a story of a young man telling his father about his upcoming marriage, which he contrasts with the failures of one of his old friends. However, the tables are turned in a callous fashion which leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Interestingly, the tale reminded me of some of the short stories of the US writer, John Cheever.

The Stoker

This is the story of a 16 year old emigre from Czechoslovakia to America. He mislays his umbrella at the end of his Atlantic crossing and in going to retrieve it meets and gets involved with one of the ships's crew, a German born stoker. Although the honesty and good intentions of the stoker are not entirely apparent to the reader, it is clear that there is a strong bond between passenger and stoker.

Not everything in the book sustains such high levels of interest but I have found enough to make it worthwhile.
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on 17 July 2005
Although the creepiness of this short by Franz Kafka is apparent from the opening, disturbing paragraph, its true weirdness isn't made clear until halfway through the story. Gregor Samsa, a travelling salesman, awakes one morning to find that he has been transformed into a hideous "insect" - cleverly, in true Kafka style, we never find out what type of insect he has metamorphosized into, our only insights are Kafka's various detailed descriptions of Gregor's feelings and physical apperance to his family... and himself. The style of this extremely enjoyable novel is reminiscent of his unfinished work, The Trial in which a man is on trial for an unknown reason (and it works well).
Struggling to hold his family together, the weirdness and fierceness of this story is now made apparent. Gregor's father attacks him - causing a turning point within the story as we now see Gregor's family resent his condition.
We never find out why or how Gregor has transformed but again, like in The Trial it simply doesn't matter. Using little direct speech, Kafka has woven Gregor's horror and disgust with his family's despair and fright to make a totally impossible situation seem almost real. The fact the only setting is Samsa family's apartment makes the atmosphere disturbing and creepy(very isolated and tense).
Gregor's family depended on him for money and therefore, as I think Kafka is trying to say, a bearable life. Gregor has to witness his family's downfall silently (literally, as he has lost the ability to talk), his only communication being indirect (I mean, with no speech) with his sister and the cleaner who visits him room ocassionally to clean and bring food. We see the Samsa family fall rapidly and become unable to cope with Gregor any longer.
The ending is no surprise, but I don't want to give it away simple because it significantly affects the ending - however, I feel that Kafka struggles to make his point stand-out - even though his ending paragraphs are brilliantly profound. Obviously, the plot in a child's nutshell is about a man who has turned into an insect and, seemingly without being able to help it, causes his family's downfall because of their dependence on him financially and emotionally - however, I think the novel should have been longer and therefore fleshing-out Kafka's point further.
I enjoyed this book very much, a classic - read it for the amazing language if nothing else. A brilliant story and message, Franz, but... a bit more material and it'd be perfect!
Final impression is that Kafka is a truly fantastic author. His use of language and tone is perfect (I noticed this in both Metamorphosis and The Trial). Buy and see for yourself!
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VINE VOICEon 3 April 2006
Metamorphosis is one of the most famous works in world literature, and possibly has the most memorable opening lines in the history of story telling, - 'As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning after disturbing dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into an enormous insect'. A standard interpretation of this allegorical tale is that Gregor's transformation from hard working travelling salesman, providing for his family, to a grotesque useless insect that provokes disgust and pity and ultimately rejection by his family, represents physical disability, and society's treatment of it. I can see this in the story, but I read Kafka as essentially portraying his nightmare of the barrier between the public and personal inner world being removed. The private mental life, with its sensitive and raw secrets, its ugly and embarrasing little features, the desires and instincts that we strive to keep hidden, and/or are forced to repress. The bug is the embodiment of the ugly and raw inside turned out, exposed for all the world to see. Particularly nightmarish for Gregor (kafka) is the fact that those who see are those he loves and whose rejecton he fears most of all - his family.
That a short story of less than one hundred pages allows so many interpretative possibilities stands as a testament to Kafka's unique power to draw the reader into a hypnotic world of dark archetypal imagery. Upon finishing this novella, you may feel as though awoken from disturbing dreams, dreams that will nevetheless have cast some strange new light on your waking day.
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on 26 July 2014
loved it
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 18 September 2003
It was not my choice to read this book - it is a set book for an English course. If it hadn't have been for the course, I may not have ever read it. However, having now read the majority of the book, I have enjoyed it more than I thought I would.
This was the first book by Kafka that I have read. I was struck by how different his writing style is compared to writers I usually read. There is little dialogue in most of his stories, instead there are long sections of prose, which is highly punctuated.
The collection of stories in this volume are very weird. "Metamorphosis" for example is about a young man who awakens to find that he has changed into a "monstrous insect". It is a really surreal story, because of the absurdity of the situation, yet it is thought-provoking and quite insightful.
My only criticism of this volume is that, at times, his stories are a little too surreal. There are some included in the section entitled "The Country Doctor", which I have no ides what is trying to be said.
If, like me, you have never read a book by Kafka before, try reading this first. There are moments of tragedy, comedy and horror - what more could you really want?
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on 27 September 2000
This book is great. I am curently using it for my litereray study in English. You start reading one story and read all of them. The book is a must have for all fans of Kafka's.
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on 30 October 2009
A suprisingly realistic story with insights on every page to the authers self hatred and scared childhood.

An interesting read and a truly literalised metaphore.
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on 21 January 2015
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on 6 August 2010
this book was advertised as in excellent condition but was actually quite scruffy and a little dirty. Granted it was very cheap but the description didn't fit the article sent.
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