Arriving in a village to take up the position of land surveyor for the mysterious lord of a castle, the character known as K. finds himself in a bitter and baffling struggle to contact his new employer and go about his duties. As the villagers and the Castle officials block his efforts at every turn, K.’s consuming quest–quite possibly a self-imposed ...
Arriving in a village to take up the position of land surveyor for the mysterious lord of a castle, the character known as K. finds himself in a bitter and baffling struggle to contact his new employer and go about his duties. As the villagers and the Castle officials block his efforts at every turn, K.’s consuming quest–quite possibly a self-imposed one–to penetrate the inaccessible heart of the Castle and take its measure is repeatedly frustrated. Kafka once suggested that the would-be surveyor in The Castle is driven by a wish “to get clear about ultimate things,” an unrealizable desire that provided the driving force behind all of Kafka’s dazzlingly uncanny fictions.
Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir
They are perhaps the most famous literary instructions never followed: "Dearest Max, my last request: Everything I leave behind me ... in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters (my own and others'), sketches, and so on, [is] to be burned unread...." Thankfully, Max Brod did not honor his friend Franz Kafka's final wishes. Instead, he did everything within his power to ensure that Kafka's work would find publication--including making some sweeping changes in the original texts. Until recently, the world has known only Brod's version of Kafka, with its altered punctuation, word order, and chapter divisions. Restoring much of what had previously been expunged, as well as the fluid, oral quality of Kafka's original German, Mark Harman's new translation of The Castle is a major literary event.
One of three unfinished novels left after Kafka's death, The Castle is in many ways the writer's most enduring and influential work. In Harman's muscular translation, Kafka's text seems more modern than ever, the words tumbling over one another, the sentences separated only by commas. Harman's version also ends the same way as Kafka's original manuscript--that is, in mid-sentence: "She held out her trembling hand to K. and had him sit down beside her, she spoke with great difficulty, it was difficult to understand her, but what she said--." For anyone used to reading Kafka in his artificially complete form, the effect is extraordinary; it is as if Kafka himself had just stepped from the room, leaving behind him a work whose resolution is the more haunting for being forever out of reach.
From Library Journal
Upon his death in 1924, Kafka instructed his literary executor, Max Brod, to destroy all his manuscripts. Wisely refusing his friend's last wishes, Brod edited the uncompleted Castle, along with other unfinished works, ordering the fragments into a coherent whole, and had them published. Brod's interpretation of the work as a novel of personal salvation was accepted and strengthened by Willa and Edward Muir, who translated it into English in 1930. Recent scholarship, less willing to accept Brod's version, has led to a new critical edition of the novel, which was published in German in 1982 and which purports to be closer to Kafka's intentions. Harman's translation represents this edition's first appearance in English. Harman's stated goal as translator is to reproduce as closely as possible Kafka's style, which results in an English that is stranger and denser than the Muirs' elegant work. A necessary acquisition for anyone interested in Kafka.
Michael O'Pecko, Towson State Univ., Md.
The son of a well-to-do merchant, Franz Kafka was born in Prague in 1883 and died of tuberculosis in a sanitorium near Vienna in 1924. After earning a law degree in 1906, he worked most of his adult life at the Workers Accident Insurance Company for the Kingdom of Bohemia in Prague. Only a small portion of his writings were published during his lifetime; most of them, including the three unfinished novels, Amerika, The Trial, and The Castle, were published posthumously.
Mark Harman holds a Ph.D. from Yale University and has taught German and Irish literature at Oberlin and Dartmouth. In addition to writing scholarly essays on Kafka and other modern authors, he has edited and co-translated Robert Walser Rediscovered: Stories, Fairy-Tale Plays, and Critical Responses and has translated Soul of the Age: Selected Letters of Hermann Hesse, 1891-1962. He teaches literature at the University of Pennsylvania.