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on 22 June 2008
Undeserved lack of attention has been paid to this novel. It contains some great 'Kafka' scenes, and is an interesting read. The title ought to be Amerika, afterall Kafka had never been there and the story is essentially of a fictional land. Really worth reading!
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on 5 August 2013
Initially, it seems as though this book is not as accomplished as the author's more famous novels, but I think on reflection, I would rather say this book is just different to 'The Castle' and 'The Trial'. It is about a 15 year old called Karl Rossman who gets packed off to America on his own after a sexual misdemeanour with a servant in his native Prague.

Alienation is a key theme in this. Despite some outrageous and even unnatural fortune, Karl can never fit in anywhere or find his milieu. Just as the reader feels he is about to achieve something, there is a sudden drop in Karl's fortunes. Constant unfulfilled hope makes the book rather antagonising.

Although on first acquaintance not as Kafkaesque as the other two novels, the sheer suddenness and arbitrariness with which Karl's fortunes rise and fall is unsettling - as if when reading it, you are locked in a dream where you cannot reach fulfilment. The fact that the novel is unfinished even makes it more disturbing - again as if in a dream where you never get to know the end, but wake up instead. Karl, as a 15 year old, is considerably more innocent than K. and Joseph K. Here there is not even the sense that the main character might have done something in the past that he can't remember, for which he is now paying the price. Karl, is in fact a far more attractive character (at least in my opinion) than K. and Joseph K, and the things that happen to him are harder for the reader to bear.

The book is ineffective as a portrait of American society, and most of the characters apart from Karl don't quite feel as though they are real. It also has no ending and the final chapter seems to bear little relation to what immediately precedes it. The book has these fairly major shortcomings - but here the fact that the book isn't quite as polished as Kafka's others actually makes it more disturbing. I'm not sure these shortcomings are actually shortcomings, but rather actually increase the impact of the novel. To what extent Kafka here realised what he wanted, I don't know.

Worth reading if you're not too depressed.
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on 24 September 2013
'Amerika' is Kafka's first novel, of the three unfinished ones salvaged by Max Brod. First started, is probably more accurate to say. Kafka retained it for many years never feeling entirely satisfied with it, yet never despairing of it either.

The writing, for me, is in no way inferior to Kafka's other works, though it's true to say that some of Kafka's trademark themes and methods are not fully developed: sinister overpowering officialdom - the bureaucratic, totalitarian nightmare; convoluted, protracted discourses and dialogues, reasoning against, and propelling forward, the illogical and the absurd.

Instead, 'Amerika', like the fabled country itself, offers a more positive outlook - a self-determinism quite in contrast to Kafka's other novels. At least to begin with. Inevitably, things don't proceed in the style of the American Dream exactly. But the ethic of individualism somehow survives. Whether that's ironical or not rather depends on your disposition. The novel halts in the midst of a bizarre domestic situation worthy of Pinter or Beckett theatre. Not without its humour and not entirely desperate. It's a familiar scene for Kafka readers: the ultimate agenda thwarted by the trappings and minutia of quotidian life: the search for a bottle of perfume, the getting of a breakfast.

The two fragments following the novel's conclusion, in my opinion, are not of the same quality as the novel itself, though they do, I suppose, offer a glimpse of what Kafka contemplated for later episodes.
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on 10 September 2014
Beware, this is unfortunately not the Hofmann translation, contrary to what is claimed on Amazon (at least at the time of my purchase). Comparing any paragraph of this translation, probably by Muir, with Hofmann's version is striking: the latter is much, much better, on a completely different, higher level of language; you should go for that one to appreciate the originality, richness and hilarity of Kafka.
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on 14 February 2004
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.
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on 30 April 2013
A good read with the usual Kafka intrigue. Although not five star like the Trial I would recomend this to anyone who enjoys something slightly out of the ordinary.
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on 29 April 2008
This is a relatively light and very readable novel , in which we follow the exploits of a likeable male protagonist , with none of the surreal paranoia generally associated with Kafka's writings .
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on 15 January 2014
Not his best but as so little of his work survived anyone with an interest in Kafka should read it.
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This first novel by Kafka is incomplete and was never intended for publication. It isn't funny, it isn't fun, and it certainly isn't very original. Kafka wrote it as an exercise and that is all it should be. Upon reading it carefully, I can only conclude that perhaps it should not have been published as it simply doesn't stand up to this master's best work. As such it is really only of interest to scholars.

Basically, it follows the journey through America of a clueless twit into a variety of catastrophic misadventures, from getting a maid pregnant without even understanding he was committing a sexual act to losing job after job in New York and environs. While it does have some of the bizarre atmospherics that Kafka later perfected, the themes in it are not of the timeless horror and angst that later marked Kafka as a peculiar genius.

Skip it and go on to The Trial or The Castle. If you don't know Kafka, start with Metamorphosis.
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