I thought it would be poetic to tie the end of the year 2021 to the beginning of 2022 by writing the first review of 2022 about the last book I read in the departing year. It’s a short review; it being a short piece of art. Why a piece of art? Let’s circle back to it in a moment.
The Trial written by the Austrian author Franz Kafka in 1914-15 and published posthumously is a story of a man named Joseph K. who has been accused of a crime unknown to him and also to the authorities who have come to arrest him. It’s a story of the journey of a man who is destined to be doomed from the moment of his accusation, even though the nature of his crime remains unknown and is never revealed to the reader as well.
At first K. does not take his so-called verbal arrest seriously at all. He is free to live, work, roam around at his own will. He goes along everyday life, openly mocking the law, challenging the justice system in an attempt to refute its baseless claims against his case and himself. However, when the seriousness of his predicament is pressed upon him by those who become aware of his case, it sets alarm bells in his head. Joseph K then seeks help in an effort to dismiss the case and claims of any wrong doing and realises just how inaccessible, unapproachable and un-influenceable the justice system is.
The fact that he remains ignorant of the charges and the irony that his case would be worse off if he tries to challenge the court is drawn out in several conversations in the book. Joseph K. immerses himself completely in his quest to seek his way to the acquittal while neglecting his every day life. He is portrayed to be a proud man bordering on arrogance, he considers the other defendants inferior. Yet the construct of fear built around him is so strong that it constrains him to the terror. He spirals into uncertainty and becomes infatuated with seeking help to prove his innocence and becomes engulfed by the view that his impending doom is inevitable. Any hope of his acquittal is trampled through carefully fabricated narratives of those who come across him discussing his case and those he is seeking help form. All of this is happening while the fear is gripping his mind, imprisoning it while his body is free to roam around. This probably draws out on the nature of human beings that we often deem ourselves innocent but cannot prove it or challenge the world, eventually accepting the blame and live with undue guilt.
I dubbed this novel a piece of art because the book is a great spectacle of descriptive writing. It’s a narrative that is masterful at placing the reader in the setting, the surroundings become almost tangible with the way Kafka portrays the world he creates and places the reader in the setting right alongside the protagonist. Would this expansive way of writing appeal to the average reader of the modern age we live in? Probably not. His evocative words would have spun magic in the times that the book was written in, but is unlikely to have an impact on the reader today if they do not have an appreciation of literary writing.
An average reader impressed by the reputation that Kafka has built over the last century will pick up the book, look for a plot line, find it absent and might cast the book aside. It will tire them; reading page after page of description and lengthy dialogue that moves through expansive narrative between characters that pop up along the book at random. Should you pick up this book to read? Yes, for the author sends a profound message about human nature. Kafka has drawn our attention to the reality that we are seemingly free but are bound by our inner fears. They hinder us from taking a leap in faith to achieve our goals, imprisoning us to our own insecurities when we are free to explore endless possibilities. The prison is inside our own heads. In times when we should stand on the solid ground of faith within ourselves, the continuous need to seek validation from those around us often overtakes. When we should be wrestling with our reality to bring about a change, we lose this belief in ourselves and often accept our circumstances or fate because of others’ view of us, which can paralyse us, obstructing our move forward to inner emancipation.