Re-reading Kafka

Posted on by Sandell Morse

At dinner, I tell my son I am reading or re-reading Kafka, preparing for an upcoming trip to Prague. We are three at the kitchen table, my husband, my son and I. Downstairs, in the family room, my granddaughter and a friend are watching the premier of Gray’s Anatomy. We are an extended family, and one of the gifts of living this way is sharing the dailyness of our lives, what movies we see, what we read. “Kafka,” my son says. “He’s my favorite.”

Who knew? “You like Kafka?”

“I love him. What’s that one about the country doctor?”

Ah, “The Country Doctor,” a number of linked short stories, but it’s hard to tell what joins them. Mostly, they’re brutal, violent and strange—Kafkaesque. Two horses look in opened windows; a horse and a man gnaw from opposite ends of the same bone, a boy shows his open wound spilling worms. My son and I speak of “The Judgment,” a story in which a father sentences his son to death by drowning which at that moment seems implausible. Then, the son finds himself at a river. He jumps from a bridge.

Kafka is beyond explanation. I can’t exactly put my finger on what he says; yet, I feel a strange kinship with his bizarre entanglements, his obscurity, his missed connections.

“And Gregor,” my son says.

“Metamorphosis.” The nightmare of waking up in the body of a cockroach, hearing and understanding; yet, unable speak. For years, Gregor has cared for his family. Now, they cannot stand the sight of him. He is doomed. “Kafka is so… I don’t know.”

My son lowers his fork to his plate. “He’s life.”

Kafka is life; yet, he’s missing one of life’s great gifts: joy. Not a good thing for either a man or his work. Yet, like my son, I’m drawn to his dark vision. And to his brilliance.

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