So much has already been written about “The Trial“, it is difficult to know what I can add. This is possibly the most famous book in German Literature.
I read it in English translation, I lack the German to read it in its original form, a pity as Kafka was a great admirer of Flaubert and his demands for the purity of language. This was my second reading of the book and also my second attempt at a review…the first copy of the book I bought had a kafkaesque surprrise in that it contained the first half of “The Trial” twice…but no second half.
Kafka was not a professional writer, he had no publisher screaming at him to get the book finished, this book remains unfinished like his other two novels “The Castle” and “Amerika“.
The Trial begins when our protagonist Joseph K, the chief clerk of a bank, is unexpectedly arrested by two unidentified agents from an unspecified agency for an unspecified crime. To his initial surrise, K. is allowed to continue his work at the bank, which he does but the arrest and impending trial hanging over him affects his work. K. receives a phone call summoning him to court, and the coming Sunday is arranged as the date. No time is set, but the address is given to him. The address turns out to be a huge tenement building. K. has to explore to find the court, which turns out to be in the attic.
There are many dark poorly ventilated places, where K. seeks out help in his trial and is met with inhuman bureaucracy. Written 100 years ago, though not published until after Kafka’s death, the book holds up a mirror to the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century like Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, the juntas in Argentina etc… But what is K. guilty of? What would warrant his arrest and prosecution (not to mention persecution)? Apparently nothing.The Court that has claimed him is thoroughly vile. Yet no one is free of guilt. Tempted as he is to laugh the whole thing off, to call the warders’ bluff and declare the whole event a practical joke, he cannot. He is one of those who had always taken law, order, and justice for granted. They have been a steady and invisible framework within which he has achieved his success, without ever having pause to consider them.
The painter, K. seeks out to help him in his case, who resides in a stuffy apartment atop some stairs, has a painting of justice with wings on her heels. “Justice must stand quite still, or else the scales will waver and a just verdict will become impossible.” observes K. K.’s story gets darker and more oppressive as he becomes entangled in the legal bureaucratic web.
The mass of studies and interpretations of “The Trial” make it unlikely that any substantive aspect or salient detail has been altogether overlooked.
I can only give this book 5 out of 5 as every line resonates with subtle meaning.