One of the great works of the twentieth century, Kafka's The Trial has been read as a study of political power, a pessimistic religious parable, or a crime novel where the accused man is himself the problem. In it, a man wakes up one morning to find himself under arrest for an offence which is never explained. Faced with this ambiguous but threatening situation, Josef K. gradually succumbs to its psychological pressure. One of the iconic figures of modern world literature, Kafka writes about universal problems of guilt, responsibility, and freedom. He offers no solutions, but provokes his readers to arrive at meanings of their own. Mike Mitchell's translation captures Kafka's distinctive style. Based on the best available German text, it includes not only the main text but the chapters Kafka left incomplete. In his Introduction, Ritchie Robertson considers the many puzzles in the novel and the different interpretations to which the novel has been subjected. The book also includes a Biographical Preface, an up-to-date bibliography, and a chronology of Kafka's life.
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The story of The Trial's publication is almost as fascinating as the novel itself. Kafka intended his parable of alienation in a mysterious bureaucracy to be burned, along with the rest of his diaries and manuscripts, after his death in 1924. Yet his friend Max Brod pressed forward to prepare The Trial and the rest of his papers for publication. When the Nazis came to power, publication of Jewish writers such as Kafka was forbidden; Kafka's writings, many of which have distinctively Jewish themes, did not find a broad audience until after World War II. (Hannah Arendt once observed that although "during his lifetime he could not make a decent living, [Kafka] will now keep generations of intellectuals both gainfully employed and well-fed.") Among the current crop of Kafka heirs is Breon Mitchell, the translator of this edition of The Trial. Rather than tidying up Kafka's unconventional grammar and punctuation (as previous translators have done), Mitchell captures the loose, uneasy, even uncomfortable constructions of Kafka's original story. His translation technique is the only way to convey the comedy and confusion of this narrative, in which Josef K., "without having done anything truly wrong," is arrested, tried, convicted and executed--on a charge that is never disclosed to him. --Michael Joseph Gross