Book Note: Amerika

Confession:  I rarely read forwards.  When I plucked Franz Kafka’s Amerika from the library shelf, the note offering a new forward by E. L. Doctorow wasn’t the draw.  I picked the book for three reasons:

  1. I’d never read anything by Kafka.
  2. Though muted, my cell phone was buzzing, so I knew I needed to pick one more book quickly.
  3. The book looked shorter than all the rest surrounding it.

There.  I’m such an intellectual.

I skip forwards because often, they distract me while reading the actual novel.  They ruin the fresh surprise of the original text.

Forwards have always seemed like the blurred art project.  I got pretty decent grades in college, but the class that almost tanked me was the entry-level art class that was a requirement of my art history degree.  For one assignment, drawing light and dark, the professor projected blurred images of famous paintings onto the wall.  We were supposed to draw the shadows, but I was so distracted by knowing what the original pieces were that I failed miserably.  (I also messed up the color wheel, and turned in a piece with nine 9″ x 9″ squares that was supposed to be nine 3″ x 3″ squares.)  I wrote two additional seminar papers in order to get out of the remaining visual arts requirements.  Thank you, Professor Kenseth, for saving my G.P.A.

Amerika, though compact, took much longer to read than I anticipated.  Had I deigned to read the forward, I would have learned a key bit of information–Kafka never finished this novel!

Oddly, it reminded me of A Confederacy of Dunces, the inscrutable tome (to me, at least) beloved by any man I know who can quote the movie Used Cars. Perhaps I need to re-read A Confederacy of Dunces.  Maybe not.

Amerika’s protagonist, Karl Rossmann, arrives in New York after a dalliance with a maid at home in Germany brings shame, or at least mild embarassment, to his family.  I’d call him hapless except the tragedy I expected would befall him never happened.  Banished by his rich uncle for accepting an invitation to dinner with the uncle’s business associate, for example, Karl falls into a job a few days later despite being taken advantage of by two older immigrant hustlers.

I supposed I didn’t approach the book with a sense of whimsy.  I kept expecting consequences, and all I ended up with was Karl on a train to Oklahoma.  Which, as I consider it, may satisfy my need for a suitable consequence for his foolishness after all.

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