2007: 90. The Metamorphosis, In The Penal Colony & Other Stories

“ ‘It’s a remarkable piece of apparatus,’ said the officer to the explorer and surveyed with a certain air of admiration which was after all quite familiar to him.”*

The Metamorphosis, In The Penal Colony & Other Stories, Franz Kafka

This book is a collection of everything that Kafka ever published in his lifetime.  Many of his most famous works, such as The Trial, The Castle and Amerika were published posthumously (in fact, Kafka ordered them destroyed).  It was my first Kafka, and probably too much to take at once - and honestly, the work is of a varied quality.  Some of the stories did nothing for me - all surrealism sound and fury signifying very little, at least to my mind, viz, Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse Folk,  or the entire book of Meditation (the ideas were nonsensical but to what end?).   

But my goodness - when he was on he was something.**  The Sudden Walk (which yes, is in Meditation, sue me) was the first one that caught my eye, and I enjoyed The Rejection, and Eleven Sons.  A Report to the Academy  could be the source of a thesis on freedom versus society, and quite possibly a life philosophy.  The Metamorphosis is something else, too - how could I have lived so long without reading it? The idea of Gregor Samsa becoming a bug has lost all of its power by now through familiarity, but what about that ending, where he shrivels up and dies (in part from the apple lodged in his chest that his father threw at him), and the family recovers from all its woe?  

But most of all, what made this book for me was In the Penal Colony.  It is, in 1919, the story of fascism encapsulated.  My god, you read things like that and you wonder how on earth people can claim they didn’t know what was coming?  It is the story of the worst of humanity, and how the rule of law can be perverted, and how people prefer to look the other way.  I’m not sure I understood the ending (wouldn’t a more realistic ending have been for the explorer to end up in the machine?), but the story blew my mind.

So, in the end, while I’m not quite ready for more Kafka, just yet, I know I’ll need to come back to him.  Because there is something there that needs to be read and remembered, to try to stop us from doing the worst again.

Recommended for:  Well, that depends.  In the Penal Colony should be read by everyone, and there is enough stuff that called to me that I think that just about anyone could find a couple stories that spoke to them.  And then, maybe, you read it again in a few years and the stories that meant nothing to you now have something to say.  So, maybe everyone, then, just to be safe.


* The first line of the In The Penal Colony.  A little bit of a cheat, since it wasn’t the very first story in the collection, but it was the best story, I thought, so I erred on the side of mind-blowing.


** Or, ok, fine, when his work spoke to me. I am glad to concede that it might be me, not Franz.


Date/Place Completed:  D.C., 6/26/07

Categories:  Fiction; Commuting Book

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017