Ah, government bureaucracy! We fight it all the time, and are boggled by the red tape. When we have to approach someone within the government system, we can be sure of many stages and contacts before we get near what we want. Now, in the days of voice mail, it gets more frustrating when there's not even a person helping us!
Well, the situation certainly isn't new. Over 75 years ago K. was summoned to a village to perform his work. He was a Land Surveyor. But doing his job turned out to be more difficult than imagined.
The government office of the village are in the Castle above it. K. arrives late in the village and stays in an inhospitable inn for the night. The next morning he discovers the inn isn't the only mistrusting entity in the village. He winds through the streets trying to reach the Castle. Instead he finally ends up at another inn where only officials from the Castle are allowed to reside. Strangers and villagers are not allowed because they upset the officials.
K. meets a woman and immediately falls in love (or perhaps lust - it never does become clear). She agrees to marry him. But his tenuous position in the town gets shakier by the day. He meets the Mayor, who gives him vague promises. An innkeeper's wife (from the first inn) seems to have connections, but uses them both for and against K. K.'s official messenger from the Castle is of little help.
This philosophical novel follows K.'s fight for recognition to do the work he was contracted to perform. He is ignored, looked down upon, and praised intermittently. As different members of the village tell their tale, it gets sillier. Every person in the village is acutely aware of his position and status within the community, from the invisible rulers in the Castle to the chambermaids in the tiniest staff bedroom in the inn.
Kafka was a Czech who wrote in German, the language of his education. This is his final novel, incomplete because of his death in the 1920's. This book held a strange fascination for me. The culture references are outside my realm of knowledge (which is one reason we read, isn't it?). I didn't know if it was because of the nuance changes in translation from German to English or if it was the story. A German friend of mine says its both.
I would read it for a while, often with the mental chuckle of K.'s fight with bureaucracy. But when a story is being told by one of the village residents, it can drag. I couldn't Not read the book, but I couldn't continually read it, either. I stopped a couple times to read something else, then returned and persevered. Overall I liked the novel, but felt it was a chore to read it at times. This is not one of those books for lounging on the beach. I bet it would be most appreciated if read in a classroom setting or some other group where someone knowledgeable can help shed light when the storyline gets too confusing. Yet it's a recommended read for a wandering, realistic feeling window into the life of a government.
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