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20th Century's Greatest Writer
on 15 December 2009
Kafka is surely the greatest writer of fiction in the 20th Century. Quite a claim, I know, given that the last century produced Thomas Mann, George Orwell, Graham Greene, Salman Rushdie, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Thomas Keneally and a host of others. All these writers are brilliant and insightful, but Kafka during his short life showed the absurdity of human pretensions. "The Trial" and "The Castle" show the way that totalitarian regimes will protect themselves at all costs. Indeed, anyone who has ever rang a customer care Call Centre will immediately be able to identify with "The Castle", as will any one who has attempted to get information out of any bureaucracy. "The Trial" is perhaps his greatest - and certainly his darkest - work. We don't know what the crime is nor do we know if he is innocent or guilty, but we don't need to know because the point of the novel is that once a person finds themselves inside a criminal "justice" system - particularly but not exclusively in totalitarian regimes - it can be difficult to find a way out.
It is amazing that these novels were written before the Nazi Holocaust, before we knew the truth of the Stalinist regime, and before the crimes committed by Pol Pot, Mao, Amin and the Americans in Vietnam.