Karl Rossman, Kafka's young and unassuming character, is in a frightening situation. Having made a young servant girl pregnant, his ashamed and unfortunate parents have sent him to begin a new life in America.
Click here to see the rest of this review
It is in Kafka's acclaimed short story "The Stoker", that the first chapter of "Amerika" also begins, as "The Stoker" was originally published on its own. Karl is about to leave the ship in New York when he encounters a member of the crew, who is himself in a difficult situation. Karl engages in debate with some senior members of the ships crew, fighting for the Stoker's well-being. And at this point the overwhelming authority and needless bureaucracy make their appearance in a novel that quit overwhelms the central character.
Our hero runs into his uncle during this debate. It his uncle, a prosperous governor, who takes Karl in. Karl begins his life in luxury, learning piano, horse riding and English, when something unexpectedly shocking occurs. His uncles friend invites him to his mansion, outside of New York City, and Karl agrees, to his uncles dubious consent.
However, in typical Kafka style, his uncle sends a note out to said mansion, declaring Karl banished from his home for not gaining his uncles "full permission" for the visit.
Karl is now on the road, unemployed in a strange land. The Dickensian saga gets into full-swing, when he meets a pair of travelling workmen in a lodging house. Robinson and Delamarche. They take him under their unscrupulous wing, eating his food and spending his money along the way.
Karl escapes them, and finds employment as a lift boy at a hotel that the three travel past. He settles in as best he can, getting on with the tiring job of attending to the lifts, and sleeping in a large dormitory specifically for lift boys. Unfortunately, the two rogues aren't about to let him slip away that easily, and he is paid an unwelcome visit whilst on duty one evening. It is this visit that spirals things out of control, once again, for poor Karl, who will meet with more danger in this stuffy and confusing hotel and beyond.
Best part of story, including ending:
Not only is it brilliantly written, it also tells the kind of story we can all relate to in the modern world - that is the ridiculousness of the institutions we have to confront in a world where everything is riddled by procedure. Karl cannot make sense of the challenges he faces and neither can we. The novel also uses humour brilliantly.
Best scene in story:
Towards the end Karl encounters a student on a balcony next to his. What I specifically enjoyed about this scene was the unnerving atmosphere that Kafka develops with brilliance. We cannot believe the student but at the same time we do. He is a ridiculous character who gives Karl, we feel, ridiculous advice, but he is also presented as a person of intelligence, and therefore, authority.
Opinion about the main character:
Karl Rossmann is too trusting, and perhaps lets those around him get away with too much. He allows himself to be exploited needlessly. This is what I cannot like about the character. He is rather like one of Dickens' naive young characters, a German David Copperfield.