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The Metamorphosis, the Penal Colony, and Other Stories (Schocken Classics)

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Translated by PEN translation award-winner Joachim Neugroschel, The Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony, and Other Stories has garnered critical acclaim and is widely recognized as the preeminent English-language anthology of Kafka's stories. These translations illuminate one of this century's most controversial writers and have made Kafka's work accessible to a whole new g Translated by PEN translation award-winner Joachim Neugroschel, The Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony, and Other Stories has garnered critical acclaim and is widely recognized as the preeminent English-language anthology of Kafka's stories. These translations illuminate one of this century's most controversial writers and have made Kafka's work accessible to a whole new generation. This classic collection of forty-one great short works -- including such timeless pieces of modern fiction as "The Judgment" and "The Stoker" -- now includes two new stories, "First Sorrow" and "The Hunger Artist."


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Translated by PEN translation award-winner Joachim Neugroschel, The Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony, and Other Stories has garnered critical acclaim and is widely recognized as the preeminent English-language anthology of Kafka's stories. These translations illuminate one of this century's most controversial writers and have made Kafka's work accessible to a whole new g Translated by PEN translation award-winner Joachim Neugroschel, The Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony, and Other Stories has garnered critical acclaim and is widely recognized as the preeminent English-language anthology of Kafka's stories. These translations illuminate one of this century's most controversial writers and have made Kafka's work accessible to a whole new generation. This classic collection of forty-one great short works -- including such timeless pieces of modern fiction as "The Judgment" and "The Stoker" -- now includes two new stories, "First Sorrow" and "The Hunger Artist."

30 review for The Metamorphosis, the Penal Colony, and Other Stories (Schocken Classics)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Leonard Gaya

    Metamorphosis is doubtless Franz Kafka’s most famous and influential short story, and it is the pearl of this volume. Kafka published a few stories during his lifetime but never came to his own commercially. In the end, perhaps out of disillusion, he asked his friend, Max Brod, to burn the writings that had remained unpublished — luckily for us, Brod disobeyed the author’s order. The present book includes the tales Kafka published during his lifetime (he died in 1924). The ones published posthum Metamorphosis is doubtless Franz Kafka’s most famous and influential short story, and it is the pearl of this volume. Kafka published a few stories during his lifetime but never came to his own commercially. In the end, perhaps out of disillusion, he asked his friend, Max Brod, to burn the writings that had remained unpublished — luckily for us, Brod disobeyed the author’s order. The present book includes the tales Kafka published during his lifetime (he died in 1924). The ones published posthumously are available in The Burrow (aka The Great Wall of China) — also translated by Michael Hofmann into a rugged yet remarkable English prose. Contemplation (1913), A Country Doctor (1920) and A Hunger Artist (1924) are collections of shorter writings, now short stories proper, now literary scraps, glimpses, at the junction between brief tales and poems. The focus of these texts vary between every-day observations (e.g. The Passenger), allegories (Jackals and Arabs), short parables (The Worries of a Head of Household), sketches (Eleven Sons), and dream-like visions (Desire to be a Red Indian). The Judgment, The Stoker, Metamorphosis (1913) and In the Penal Colony (1919) are four longer novellas in which the isolated protagonists are variously plunged into nightmarish predicaments, involving a sense of loss or abandonment, the impending verdict of a father figure and a good deal of creepiness and gallows humour. Some of these texts have also been incorporated into Kafka’s full novels, for instance, Before the Law can be found at the end of The Trial, and The Stoker is, in fact, the opening chapter of Amerika. In most of these stories, Kafka displays a profound fascination for the monstrous, both in the sense of “misshapen”, “repulsive”, and in the sense of “on display”, “laid out”. This aspect of Kafka’s abundant imagination is quite evident in many stories involving some form of performance or show in front of an unimpressed or callous audience or tribunal: the employee trying to stand up to his superiors in The Stoker, the gory torture show following a summary verdict in the Penal Colony, the young circus rider in In the Gallery, the human-ape in A Report to an Academy, the starving performer in A Hunger-Artist. In some form or other, all these stories involve a slight feeling of revulsion contradicted by a compulsion to watch and the terror of an inescapable verdict or sacrificial fate. All are, in a way, allegories of the relation between a misunderstood artist or a misinterpreted writer and an idiotic audience. Almost all of Kafka’s tales have a fantastic element and leave the reader slightly dazed, with a feeling of bizarre unreality, as though we’ve just awoken from a disturbing dream — the characters are mainly impervious to this feeling, which makes them all the stranger. The meaning of these stories is not immediately apparent either — nor does it become more explicit on second or third thought. One way to go about reading Kafka would be to simply let this uncanny feeling sink in. Nevertheless, these stories seem to be made of the same stuff as dreams or esoteric scriptures and naturally lend themselves to countless symbolic, sometimes even cabalistic, interpretations. And so, in the Penal Colony, the condemned is placed into an elaborate machine (redolent of Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum), and transformed into a living, bleeding legal document: we can immediately feel that there is more meaning in this story than meets the eye... The same thing happens in Metamorphosis: Gregor Samsa, an ordinary salesperson, one morning finds himself “changed into a monstrous cockroach”. The novella takes this grotesque event at face value and goes on to describe all its unearthly consequences: will Gregor be late for work? How will he turn the doorknob?... But ultimately, for us, what does this transformation stand for? Did Gregor Samsa become a vermin on account of his draining and pointless day job? Is the monstrous insect, on the contrary, a way out or even a symbol of genius surrounded by mediocrity (as Nabokov seemed to think)? Is Gregor Samsa an Isaac-like or Christ-like figure? Isn’t this metamorphosis an expression of the fact that the shape and nature of our body is not something we have a say on and is often the object of people’s prejudices? Case in point: gender, race, illness, disability or ageing, all things that may make us into something “other”, barely human, an “ungeheueres Ungeziefer”? Ironically enough, at the end of the story, Gregor Samsa’s younger sister, Grete, undergoes an opposite metamorphosis, as her parents notice that “she had bloomed into an attractive and well-built girl”... for now. One of the essential features of Kafka’s stories is that they are, at the same time, easily approachable yet open to the imagination and intellect of the reader, inviting endless variations and reinterpretations. For that very reason probably, Kafka, despite a relatively short and undistinguished literary career, is now immensely influential. We can glimpse his trace in the works of such authors as Jorge Luis Borges, Philip K. Dick, Art Spiegelman or Haruki Murakami; such composer as Philip Glass; or such film directors as David Lynch or David Cronenberg (one of the more recent and outstanding examples is Neill Blomkamp’s District 9). “We need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.” (letter to Pollak, 1904). And that is indeed how it feels to read Kafka.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Cecily

    "The law... should be accessible to everyone and at all times." This very short story has been published on its own, as a chapter in his novel The Trial (see my review HERE) and in the collection The Country Doctor (see my review HERE). It's a short, allegorical tale on one of Kafka's key themes: judgement. (He studied law at university, and went on to work in insurance, investigating personal injury claims.) A man comes seeking justice (the reason is not stated - this is Kafka, after all!), and th "The law... should be accessible to everyone and at all times." This very short story has been published on its own, as a chapter in his novel The Trial (see my review HERE) and in the collection The Country Doctor (see my review HERE). It's a short, allegorical tale on one of Kafka's key themes: judgement. (He studied law at university, and went on to work in insurance, investigating personal injury claims.) A man comes seeking justice (the reason is not stated - this is Kafka, after all!), and the door to justice is open, but the doorkeeper won't let him pass. There is never an outright "no", nor any reason given, just prevarication and the implication (and it is only an implication) that one day it might be possible. The man waits, and waits. The doorkeeper takes bribes: "So you won't feel there isn't anything you haven't tried." You can probably guess the outcome more-or-less. Image: Waiting at the door... (Source) Some of Kafka's stories have humour; this is not really one of them. Cold and haunting beauty, with an eerie familiarity (even the first time I read it) are the tone here. Read it - and related things You can read the whole thing (two pages) HERE. See my Kafka-related bookshelf for other works by and about Kafka: HERE. This story is also referenced in Josipovici's delightful, elegant, and ultimately very clever bit of whimsy, Only Joking, which I reviewed HERE.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly

    "Before the Law stands a doorkeeper. To this doorkeeper there comes a man from the country and prays for admittance to the Law. But the doorkeeper says that he cannot grant admittance at the moment. The man thinks it over and then asks if he will be allowed in later. 'It is possible,' says the doorkeeper, 'but not at the moment.' Since the gate stands open, as usual, and the doorkeeper steps to one side, the man stoops to peer through the gateway into the interior. Observing that, the doorkeeper "Before the Law stands a doorkeeper. To this doorkeeper there comes a man from the country and prays for admittance to the Law. But the doorkeeper says that he cannot grant admittance at the moment. The man thinks it over and then asks if he will be allowed in later. 'It is possible,' says the doorkeeper, 'but not at the moment.' Since the gate stands open, as usual, and the doorkeeper steps to one side, the man stoops to peer through the gateway into the interior. Observing that, the doorkeeper laughs and says: 'If you are so drawn to it, just try to go in despite my veto. But take note: I am powerful. And I am only the least of the doorkeepers. From hall to hall there is one doorkeeper after another, each one more powerful than the last. The third doorkeeper is already so terrible that even I cannot bear to look at him.' These are difficulties the man from the country has not expected; the Law, he thinks, should surely be accessible at all times and to everyone, but as he now takes a closer look at the doorkeeper in his fur coat, with his big sharp nose and long, thin, black Tartar beard, he decides that it is better to wait until he gets permission to enter." I tried to get ideas from the other reviews of this work here at goodreads but no one seemed to have ventured to suggest what this "Law" is. But I think Kafka had given hints. The story continues: "The doorkeeper gives him a stool and lets him sit down at one side of the door. There he sits for days and years. He makes many attempts to be admitted, and wearies the doorkeeper by his importunity. The doorkeeper frequently has little interviews with him, asking him questions about his home and many other things, but the questions are put indifferently, as great lords put them, and always finished with the statement that he cannot be let in yet. The man, who has furnished himself with many things for his journey, sacrifices all he has, however valuable, to bribe the doorkeeper. The doorkeeper accepts everything, but always with the remark: 'I am only taking it to keep you from thinking you have omitted anything.'" Interesting that the man would give bribes and the doorkeeper would always accept them. Time then inexorably proceeded with speed-- "During these many years the man fixes his attention almost continuously on the doorkeeper. He forgets the other doorkeepers, and this first one seems to him the sole obstacle preventing access to the Law. He curses his bad luck, in his early years boldly and loudly; later, as he grows old, he only grumbles to himself. He becomes childish, and since in his yearlong contemplation of the doorkeeper he has come to know even the fleas on his fur coat, he begs the fleas as well to help him and to change the doorkeeper's mind." These were what the man did. But notice what he didn't, or failed, to do up to the time he approached his own end-- "At length his eyesight begins to fail, and he does not know whether the world is really darker or whether his eyes are only deceiving him. Yet in his darkness he is now aware of a radiance that streams inextinguishable from the gateway of the Law." Now what "radiance" is this? And what "darkness"? The finale comes as follows: "Now he has not very long to live. Before he dies, all his experiences in these long years gather themselves in his head to one point, a question he has not yet asked the doorkeeper. He waves him nearer, since he can no longer raise his stiffening body. The doorkeeper has to bend low towards him, much to the man's disadvantage. 'What do you want to know now?' asks the doorkeeper; 'you are insatiable.' 'Everyone strives to reach the Law,' says the man, 'so how does it happen that for all these many years no one but myself has ever begged for admittance?' The doorkeeper recognizes that the man has reached his end, and, to let his failing senses catch the words, roars in his ears: 'No one else could ever be admitted here, since this gate was made only for you. I am now going to shut it.'" The end. So what does it mean? Let me give it a shot. Kafka was obsessed with the human condition and the eternal questions about existence (see my other review of his longer work, "The Trial"). The "Law" here can't simply be justice or a desired enforcement of rights. The law (whether it be human, natural or divine) GOVERNS. The man here, as any other man, sought that which governs human existence, that which explains or gives meaning to it, the ultimate whys and wherefores of everything and which everyone, at one time of his/her life, would find the need to wonder about and which the man here--like any other man--thought should "be accessible at all times and to everyone." He was tantalized by this. It is POSSIBLE to be admitted to the Law and the door is ALWAYS open. But there are obstacles, both imagined (the other doorkeepers) and real (the doorkeeper before him) and he lacks the courage to ignore all these obstacles and just go inside and find out what is there. There was fear of what he might find out when he goes in without "permission." He wanted it easy. To be PERMITTED inside. To be spoon-fed and be lulled into contentment about the big issues of life. So he asked and asked in an unceasing prayer, bribing his way through offerings and sacrifices to a mute idol who just stood there without objection to what was laid before its feet. In his youth there was exuberance in the man's petitions; in his old age, only childishness, then darkness. Yet in his darkness he finally becomes aware of the glory--though futile--of man's unending quest for meaning, unique to each person, a quest unto death. "Insatiable," said the doorkeeper to the man who ended his personal journey by dying, in darkness as hope ended, and as the door to the Law's gateway is closed.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Noel

    I actually have a copy of Kafka’s complete stories, but I decided to just read his published stories for now, which align with the stories in this collection and have the same translator, so I’m using this as a placeholder. I think I’ve just grown unaccustomed to such dry, matter-of-fact writing, utterly lacking in style. Kafka’s writing is almost devoid of metaphor, which is understandable, I suppose, because to compare anything in its world to the world would be offering the reader an escape, i I actually have a copy of Kafka’s complete stories, but I decided to just read his published stories for now, which align with the stories in this collection and have the same translator, so I’m using this as a placeholder. I think I’ve just grown unaccustomed to such dry, matter-of-fact writing, utterly lacking in style. Kafka’s writing is almost devoid of metaphor, which is understandable, I suppose, because to compare anything in its world to the world would be offering the reader an escape, in the way that comparing a demon to a bat would be providing a way out of the strange and into the ordinary. But I was still frustrated that I couldn’t find the poetic beauty here that I did in writers like Walser and Schulz. Kafka’s sentence structure is rather complex, and I found that I would latch at his commas, his semicolons, his dashes, desperate for something to hold on to. This was especially frustrating when reading the shorter stories, which were more like unpoetic prose-poems than short stories, and I’d forget them almost as I was reading them. It does bother me that I have so much trouble appreciating writing that’s not of the ornate, flowery sort, but what can I do? Most of the stories in this collection aren’t as fantastic or as grotesque as I imagined they’d be. Many of them aren’t fantastic or grotesque at all. And as with so many short story collections, you have to wade through a sea of mediocrity to find the moments of brilliance (which I realize is a rather harsh assessment of someone’s life’s work). For me, they were In the Penal Colony and Before the Law. I’m still undecided as to whether to read the unpublished stories. If I do, it’ll be when I don’t have anything else to read, which certainly isn’t happening anytime soon… If I sound a bit bitter, it’s because I am. I expected Kafka to become a new favorite. But I’m glad to have finally read something of his besides The Metamorphosis.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lucy Banks

    Captivating, strange and ultimately rather chilling. I'm actually reviewing another version of this book - so I'm not sure if it contains the same short stories; and for that reason, I'll only talk about the ones I know are in both - The Metamorphosis and In the Penal Colony. I first read The Metamorphosis when I was a teenager, then again in my twenties. Both times, the story really stayed with me - though I have to say, I don't think I really truly grasped its full horror until I read it a thir Captivating, strange and ultimately rather chilling. I'm actually reviewing another version of this book - so I'm not sure if it contains the same short stories; and for that reason, I'll only talk about the ones I know are in both - The Metamorphosis and In the Penal Colony. I first read The Metamorphosis when I was a teenager, then again in my twenties. Both times, the story really stayed with me - though I have to say, I don't think I really truly grasped its full horror until I read it a third time (this time in my thirties!). Short, sweet summary coming up. Gregor is a travelling salesman who lives with his parents and sister, Grete. One day, he wakes up to find that he's become an enormous bug. His sister initially tries to care for him, but it becomes pretty evident that not only is everyone repulsed by him, but that they actively wish him harm. In the Penal Colony is something altogether different. This was a story I'd not read before, and bloody hell, I'm not sure I'd want to read it again any time soon. Not because it was awful (quite the contrary) but because it was so unsettling. It's about an officer showing off an execution machine, which needles the condemned's sentence into their body while they're pinned in a 'harrow', then finally runs them through with a metal spike. Except it doesn't quite have the ending one might expect... So, let's start with the more famous of the two - The Metamorphosis. This is just a staggeringly brilliant piece of writing; and although I've always appreciated the surreal quality of it (that classic 'waking nightmare' element that seems to feature in much of Kafka's work), I don't think I fully realised the monumental sadness and self-loathing that drives it. Gregor is not just a fantastical, revolting invention - he's also a pitiful metaphor for self-hatred and isolation - the feeling of being rejected by those you love, merely because of superficial factors over which you have no control. Kafka's depiction of Gregor is absolutely freaking masterful too. He not only manages to somehow capture what it would be like to be a giant bug (down to the fun of running across the ceiling), but also the stomach-turning revoltingness of it too - the clack of the mandibles, the too-large body, the preference for rotten food. Yet none of this is Gregor's fault and that's what makes it such a heartbreaking read. In the Penal Colony continues this theme of human cruelty and isolation and pushes it to factor eleven. To my mind, it's inferior to The Metamorphosis, perhaps because it is so unrelentingly morbid. There's something about it that almost reminds me of Edgar Allen Poe - where macabre crosses into out-and-out horror. Seriously, after reading the story, I put the book down and stared at the wall for about ten minutes, until my husband had to check I was alright - it was that unpleasant! But BRILLIANTLY written. If you haven't read Kafka yet - do. He's fully deserving of being considered up there with the greats. Weird, eerie and entirely 'different' to anyone else. Now that's an accolade.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sanjay Gautam

    As usual the story was KAFKAESQUE. Better read it, its a very short one, though thought provoking.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lucas

    Aside from the introduction by Anne Rice, which should be skipped, this is a good collection and great introduction to Kafka. "The Metamorphosis," "In the Penal Colony," and "The Judgment" are worth it alone. But Schocken includes three collections of short stories in this volume, all of them filled with amazing moments. "A Hunger Artist" might be my favorite, but there are many others that left me a little in awe of Kafka's abilities. Reading Franz isn't particularly difficult, at least not most Aside from the introduction by Anne Rice, which should be skipped, this is a good collection and great introduction to Kafka. "The Metamorphosis," "In the Penal Colony," and "The Judgment" are worth it alone. But Schocken includes three collections of short stories in this volume, all of them filled with amazing moments. "A Hunger Artist" might be my favorite, but there are many others that left me a little in awe of Kafka's abilities. Reading Franz isn't particularly difficult, at least not most of the time, but it is mind-bending. Enjoying this book requires a reader who wants to ask questions and think out loud. Like when reading "The Metamorphosis" you might wonder, "Why would anyone react to this situation the way Gregor does?" Just asking that question opens the story up in a lot of ways and I think Kafka expected people to have strong reactions. Passive reading won't get you very far, especially in some of the shorter stories where layer upon layer of ideas are operating all at once. Kafka has an awesome way of writing off the page, meaning that what you don't read can be as important as what you do read. If Kafka fails to tell you something, or if the way he writes seems to ignore something obvious, that's probably a clue to dig deeper and think about why he'd do that. The only reason I gave this four stars is because I'm a little uncertain of the translation by the Muirs. It yields some beautiful and exciting prose, but it is also clumsy and a little too tightly packed in places. See "Josephine the Singer" for an example of what I mean. Considering Kafka's prose is at least clearer in other stories, I'm assuming that this muddled effect is the result of a muddled translation. All in all, definitely recommended. Be prepared to work for the reward though. You can't just fly through these in an afternoon, and repeat readings definitely help.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jim Puskas

    The brilliant Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges wrote that “every writer creates his own precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past as it will modify the future” and that this was true of Kafka, despite his work being widely viewed as unique. Without doubt, the themes Kafka explores here — powerlessness, alienation, loneliness — are as old as literature itself and Kafka, in his exploration of those notions has modified our perception of the works of his precursors. For example, The brilliant Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges wrote that “every writer creates his own precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past as it will modify the future” and that this was true of Kafka, despite his work being widely viewed as unique. Without doubt, the themes Kafka explores here — powerlessness, alienation, loneliness — are as old as literature itself and Kafka, in his exploration of those notions has modified our perception of the works of his precursors. For example, it seems to me that both Hamlet and King Lear must be perceived differently today in the light of 20th century writers (including Kafka) as opposed to how they were perceived in Shakespeare’s day. So, I suppose Borges was right, and Kafka in his fragment “Decisions” offers a troubling take on the question of “to be or not to be”. And the process continues, inasmuch as each writer who has encountered Kafka cannot help arriving at his own conception of what Kafka has to say about the human condition. My impression of this collection of (mostly) fragments is further blurred by what I believe to be the presence of an unreliable narrator. What we are presented with is not necessarily real. These are parables. Mood and allusion is every bit as meaningful as the narrative itself. Reading the set of vignettes that make up “Contemplation” I was reminded of a line in Sting’s iconic ballad “Message in a Bottle”: Seems I’m not alone at being alone Several of the lesser fragments in this collection left me with little more than a shrug, but a couple of others are very powerful indeed. “Before the Law” stands out in particular, a succinct and memorable expression of man’s helplessness in the face of forces we cannot understand.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Q

    4.5/5 Finally I read "The Metamorphosis, The Judgment, The Penal Colony". They're the reason why I bought this collection. Before I got this I did my best to avoid anything written about Kafka and his works; cause I wanted to enjoy reading them and have my mind blown away, which have been achieved Wonderfully. I just enjoyed reading those 3 stories like I never thought I would. They just drill themselves in your mind and under your skin in a very peculiar way. which is AMAZING ! The best thing ab 4.5/5 Finally I read "The Metamorphosis, The Judgment, The Penal Colony". They're the reason why I bought this collection. Before I got this I did my best to avoid anything written about Kafka and his works; cause I wanted to enjoy reading them and have my mind blown away, which have been achieved Wonderfully. I just enjoyed reading those 3 stories like I never thought I would. They just drill themselves in your mind and under your skin in a very peculiar way. which is AMAZING ! The best thing about this collection is the short stories it contains, which were pleasant at some points. “Do you realize that people don't know how to read Kafka simply because they want to decipher him? Instead of letting themselves be carried away by his unequaled imagination, they look for allegories — and come up with nothing but clichés: life is absurd (or it is not absurd), God is beyond reach (or within reach), etc. You can understand nothing about art, particularly modern art, if you do not understand that imagination is a value in itself.” - Milan Kundera I think this is the Best thing that has been written about Reading Kafka. Absolutely worth having, reading and re-reading one day ...

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sophia

    His works are often ambiguous and vague in defining purpose or moral meaning. Instead, there's a cacophony of events, images, and multifaceted characters that you learn to love and hate, relate to, and at the same time feel compelled to distance yourself from. He presents emotions, situations, and characters, which no matter how foreign in behavior, or state of mind, retain an unmistakable and comical resemblance to human nature. He takes what we all already “know” somewhere in our subconscious His works are often ambiguous and vague in defining purpose or moral meaning. Instead, there's a cacophony of events, images, and multifaceted characters that you learn to love and hate, relate to, and at the same time feel compelled to distance yourself from. He presents emotions, situations, and characters, which no matter how foreign in behavior, or state of mind, retain an unmistakable and comical resemblance to human nature. He takes what we all already “know” somewhere in our subconscious understanding of the world and makes it conscious. Even though his writing is in constant conflict with itself, it only reinforces his acceptance of the world as too complex for his humble pen to simplify; a meticulous desire to paint life in its true form.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Anai Finnie

    I simply do not have the time for a sad man writing about nothing of interest.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Marc

    This is a non-objective-emotionally-laden-I'm-so-damn-glad-to-be-done-with-this-book review... I've owned this book for long enough to have forgotten how I acquired it. I chose to read it now because "The Penal Colony" was mentioned in Murakami's Kafka on the Shore, which I read a month or so ago. I skipped right to "The Penal Colony" and enjoyed it. Then I put the book down. It sat on my bedside table giving me the kind of looks young orphans give to potential adoptive parents. I tried to ignore This is a non-objective-emotionally-laden-I'm-so-damn-glad-to-be-done-with-this-book review... I've owned this book for long enough to have forgotten how I acquired it. I chose to read it now because "The Penal Colony" was mentioned in Murakami's Kafka on the Shore, which I read a month or so ago. I skipped right to "The Penal Colony" and enjoyed it. Then I put the book down. It sat on my bedside table giving me the kind of looks young orphans give to potential adoptive parents. I tried to ignore it. I told myself to just put it back on the unread shelf, maybe even let it fall behind the shelf... But its silent cries were too much for me and I finally caved.I started at the beginning. It was very slow going and that's with skipping "The Metamorphosis" because I've already read it a couple of times--you should, too (you don't need this book to find a copy--there's this little thing called the Internet that you're using right now). Out of 44 separate selections, there were four that I really enjoyed: "About the Law", "The Metamorphosis", "The Penal Colony", and "The Sorrow". But when I hit that story about Josephine the singer... it felt like 50 pages saying exactly the same fucking thing. I think it may have only been 25 pages or so, but I despised it so much, I'm not even going to touch the book again to check. I felt myself too close to the end to just give up. Done in by Josephine' "piping", I am now working on a time machine so that I may go back and recapture the time Kafka extorted from me. If you haven't read Kafka, may I highly recommend The Trial instead. Wishing you and yours happy reading.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Let's talk about Franz Kafka! So for this review, I'm going to try and provide some of my thoughts on my favorite story from each collection. From Meditation, my favorite story would have to be Unhappiness. The comedy of the interaction between the apparition is excellent, but it doesn't betray the ultimate sorrow of what the story is trying to say. The Judgement is Kafka in near top form, it's a superb story and the pure dread of the relationship between father and son makes it what it is. The Let's talk about Franz Kafka! So for this review, I'm going to try and provide some of my thoughts on my favorite story from each collection. From Meditation, my favorite story would have to be Unhappiness. The comedy of the interaction between the apparition is excellent, but it doesn't betray the ultimate sorrow of what the story is trying to say. The Judgement is Kafka in near top form, it's a superb story and the pure dread of the relationship between father and son makes it what it is. The gruesomely comic final passages are also pretty awesome. The Metamorphosis is the obviously one of the preeminent pieces of literature of the 20th century. I don't need to sing it's praises here. An Imperial Message is one of my all-time favorites from Kafka, I think it's one of the best pieces of short fiction I've ever read. I constantly read and reread it. I adore it. In the Penal Colony is the perfect story to read in a dismal mood. The savage insults it seems to hurl at existence and it's punishment makes it one of my favorites pieces from Kafka. Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse Folk is an astoundingly beautiful short story for Kafka. It's got this elegant and very pretty prose and what it has to say is deep, and resonant. One of my favorites not just of Kafka but of any writer. Overall, I love reading Franz Kafka. He writes more than just absurd allegories and tales of the oppressive and terrible. I get the sense he genuinely loved expressing his life into pages of heartfelt confessions, and getting to explore him and yourself while reading his works is a quite special place to be in. I'll probably be revisiting these soon.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jens (Theory of)

    Worth reading for ‘the metamorphosis’ and ‘in the penal colony’, but I also enjoyed very much ‘before the law’ and ‘jackals and arabs’. Some stories I felt were sufficiently short that I did not have time to begin caring about them so I was just as quickly on to the next one. I don’t think I’ll remember much from my read of this collection, but I’m happy that I have exposed myself to Franz Kafka for the first time.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ami

    Interesting set of psychological thrillers. Anne Rice's foreword proclaims them "the first horror stories", but if that's true, they're certainly not the blood & gore type of horror stories. The premises are dark twists on reality, but the (re)actions of the characters are real enough to be the scary part. From reading some of the other stories in the book (namely "In the Penal Colony", "Conversations with the Supplicant", "The Hunger Artist", and some pieces from the collection of "Meditations" Interesting set of psychological thrillers. Anne Rice's foreword proclaims them "the first horror stories", but if that's true, they're certainly not the blood & gore type of horror stories. The premises are dark twists on reality, but the (re)actions of the characters are real enough to be the scary part. From reading some of the other stories in the book (namely "In the Penal Colony", "Conversations with the Supplicant", "The Hunger Artist", and some pieces from the collection of "Meditations"), I was able to make these generalizations about Kafka's work: I like his longer stories better, and "The Metamorphosis" and "The Judgement" are the two pieces that are just about as resolved as Kafka ever gets. In fact, I gathered from my brief research on Kafka's writing style that the English translation is missing a crucial, untranslatable component of the original German--something about sentence structure, and Kafka's purposeful & artful way of writing sentences that bring to just to the brink of being complete. As such, a lot of the stories didn't feel quite as suspenseful as I imagine the originals to be. And I just flat-out don't "get" the shorter "Meditations" or even "Conversations with the Supplicant". Not the most enjoyable reading I've done, but I'm glad I now have a passing familiarity with Kafka's work. On its own, I would have given "The Metamorphosis" a 3.5 or 4.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tim Weakley

    Superior! For me the best aspect of Kafka is the attitude of the stories. It's not "imagine one day that this happened..." it's "one day..this happened..." It makes the stories so much more bizarre! My favourite was The Metamorphosis. I think the story of Gregor Samsa is definitive for Kafka's style of writing. In the Penal Colony was horrific and very good as well. The only other story that stood out in the book was The Hunger Artist. The rest were really just filler, and not engaging. Superior! For me the best aspect of Kafka is the attitude of the stories. It's not "imagine one day that this happened..." it's "one day..this happened..." It makes the stories so much more bizarre! My favourite was The Metamorphosis. I think the story of Gregor Samsa is definitive for Kafka's style of writing. In the Penal Colony was horrific and very good as well. The only other story that stood out in the book was The Hunger Artist. The rest were really just filler, and not engaging.

  17. 4 out of 5

    David

    The Penal Colony was by far my favorite. Other notable short stories were of course The Metamorphosis, the Bachelor, The Hunger Artist, and The Judgement. As often with Kafka, some off the stories either 'go over my head,' or simply don't resonate with me, but that doesn't change the fact that there is no other author out there like Kafka. (Maybe Knute Hamsun or Sigizmund Khrizhanovsky comes close). The Penal Colony was by far my favorite. Other notable short stories were of course The Metamorphosis, the Bachelor, The Hunger Artist, and The Judgement. As often with Kafka, some off the stories either 'go over my head,' or simply don't resonate with me, but that doesn't change the fact that there is no other author out there like Kafka. (Maybe Knute Hamsun or Sigizmund Khrizhanovsky comes close).

  18. 5 out of 5

    Isa

    a VERY mixed bag

  19. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    Kafka allegedly worked at an insurance company, but I'm convinced it was a front for a publishing house, because it's beyond me how he managed to get most of these works published in his lifetime. The stories that aren't just sketches of a scene or descriptions of people (one story consists entirely of a narrator describing each of his 11 sons in excruciating detail) seem overly dramatic. I understand he's trying to drive home metaphors or commentary, but I think there are ways of doing that wit Kafka allegedly worked at an insurance company, but I'm convinced it was a front for a publishing house, because it's beyond me how he managed to get most of these works published in his lifetime. The stories that aren't just sketches of a scene or descriptions of people (one story consists entirely of a narrator describing each of his 11 sons in excruciating detail) seem overly dramatic. I understand he's trying to drive home metaphors or commentary, but I think there are ways of doing that without having every character kill themselves. (That's not a spoiler, unless you know zero things about Kafka.) I'm giving 2 stars to everything in the collection except "The Metamorphosis", which gets 5 stars; so, through some questionable math, I arrived at 3 stars. "The Metamorphosis" is the one story that seems to have a real narrative to it and feels like it actually moves through a span of time. And in spite of the absurd premise, the characters and their interactions feel real. Whether treated literally (as literally as possible, at least) or as a metaphor, the writing holds up and doesn't feel as dated as it does elsewhere in the book. Kafka maintains a good balance between describing characters' inner thoughts and motivations and actually moving the story along, and this helps you empathize with the characters rather than feel annoyed that Kafka wants to tell you about them. Their decisions and actions are heartbreaking, but logical. There really is no good solution to Gregor's predicament, and even though you understand that from the beginning, it's fascinating (albeit depressing) to witness each character's journey to that eventual revelation. Read "The Metamorphosis", skip the rest.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Anatoly Molotkov

    Beautiful and strange stories that read as modern and innovative now as they did a hundred years ago when they were written. It goes without saying that contemporary literature wouldn't be the same without Kafka. Joachim Neugroschel does an excellent job with these stories, making them sound more natural than most other English translators. Beautiful and strange stories that read as modern and innovative now as they did a hundred years ago when they were written. It goes without saying that contemporary literature wouldn't be the same without Kafka. Joachim Neugroschel does an excellent job with these stories, making them sound more natural than most other English translators.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    I have often been told I should read Franz Kafka. I've been told by people I know, or by introductions in other books, or from lists of classics I should read. So one day not long ago as I was browsing in a bookstore I came across "The Metamorphosis and Other Stories" and I bought it. Now I've read my first Kafka. The amount of stars it is getting is still up in the air for now. The first story in the book is "The Metamorphosis", of course it would be first, and as I start reading the first line I have often been told I should read Franz Kafka. I've been told by people I know, or by introductions in other books, or from lists of classics I should read. So one day not long ago as I was browsing in a bookstore I came across "The Metamorphosis and Other Stories" and I bought it. Now I've read my first Kafka. The amount of stars it is getting is still up in the air for now. The first story in the book is "The Metamorphosis", of course it would be first, and as I start reading the first line is: "One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin." Well we're off to a bad start. When I think of vermin I think of mice. I hate mice. I hate mice more than anything else that I can think of. Anything mouse related I hate, field mice, house mice, moles, voles, rats, whatever, I hate them all. Ever since they got into my Christmas decorations in the garage we have been having an out and out war. Now by the second line I know Gregor hasn't turned into a mouse, it seems to be some sort of insect. "He lay on his armour-like back, and if he lifted his head a little he could see his brown belly, slightly domed and divided by arches into stiff sections. The bedding was hardly able to cover it and seemed ready to slide off any moment. His many legs, pitifully thin compared with the size of the rest of him, waved about helplessly as he looked." Well that's not much better, I hate insects too. Alot of them anyway, lice, fleas, ticks, stinkbugs, gnats, more that I can't think of right now, I hate them. They are annoying. So finding myself turned into a big bug one morning would have me in a panic. I would have been screaming in my bug voice for a doctor, for my parents, for an ambulance, for anything that could help me. Not Gregor, he never really seems to mind the fact that he has turned into an insect, and never once seems to ask himself, or anyone else for that matter, how such a thing could have happened. Other people's reactions are just as strange to me. His parents and sister see him, and they, instead of running for a doctor or the greatest scientists in the country, keep him locked in the room out of sight. They never ask either how this could have happened. They all seem to blame him for being turned into a bug which makes me think he wanted to be a bug. His boss who comes to see why he isn't at work, goes running from the apartment when he sees him and apparently tells no one, since no one ever shows up to see this bug monster. You would think he would have told everyone he saw and that news crews, or whatever a 1915 version of a news crew would be, would be showing up at the door. The ending I won't tell you, but I thought it was sad. Another story I found sad was "The Judgment". Kafka wrote the story in 1912 and it tells the story of a relationship, and not a good relationship, between a father and son. Kafka considered the story “one of his most successful and perfect literary creations”. I considered it really sad that a father could have treated his son that way, but I'll let you read the story to see what happens. Kafka once wrote to his father; "My writing was all about you." If that was the case his father wasn't very nice. "In the Penal Colony", another of the stories that stayed with me was written in October 1914, revised in November 1918, and first published in October 1919. There are only four characters in the story. The description of the torture device, a machine that carves the sentence of the condemned prisoner on his skin before letting him die, all in the course of twelve hours, was disturbing. "A Country Doctor" made no sense to me whatsoever. The doctor's horse dies, but he finds two new horses in his pig sty that get him to the sick boy's house ten miles away instantly. At first he can't find anything the matter with the boy, then checks him again and finds a huge wound on his right side. Then for reasons I never understood the family of the sick boy undress the doctor and put him in bed with the boy. If you want to know what happens next, go read the story, I'm not sure I could tell you anyway. There are other stories in the book, not all of them are sad and depressing, but the ones that aren't sad and depressing aren't exactly happy and cheerful either. I doubt that I would read the book again. I am slightly interested in reading a longer Kafka book just to see if he cheers up any time, but I have so many books that I want to read and so many books that I want to read over again, that I doubt I will take the time to read Kafka again, at least not for a long time. Oh, and by the way, when we were kids our parents took us to Disneyworld, and no, I never tried to meet Mickey. After all, a mouse is a mouse. Two stars for the book, it was OK.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kendra Hildreth

    This book was given to me by a kind English teacher and mentor of mine. The first time I read it, I devoured it. I finished in about three days. The second time was no different. There is something captivating about Kafka’s works. It’s fascinating to read about his thoughts and to read through his short stories. I absolutely adore his stories, his writing style, and his uniqueness. Definitely recommend this to anyone who likes the strange and unique.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ken Yuen

    Just read "In the Penal Colony". It really made me think of how one would interact with another person who's morals, thinking, and values are so different that they're basically inhuman. The Officer is such a fanatic true believer that it makes the Explorer and the reader question their own morals. (view spoiler)[ Fortunately, it's quite easy to convince the Officer that the old ways are out of favor and that he was quite alone in his adherence to them. The problem is the Officer and he fixes him Just read "In the Penal Colony". It really made me think of how one would interact with another person who's morals, thinking, and values are so different that they're basically inhuman. The Officer is such a fanatic true believer that it makes the Explorer and the reader question their own morals. (view spoiler)[ Fortunately, it's quite easy to convince the Officer that the old ways are out of favor and that he was quite alone in his adherence to them. The problem is the Officer and he fixes himself. But in real life, there are many who won't let go of the old ways, thus pushing back progress. Gotta love the machine collapsing like a metaphor for the Officer's way of doing things. Too broken and outdated to even live up to the Officer wanted. (hide spoiler)] I read this short story because it's mentioned in Kafka on the Shore. I've always wanted read more Kafka since reading the Metamorphosis in high school. This was both a surreal experience, but also the commentary on society still hold true today. I'd love to read a short explanation to whether this story was a commentary to something that happened to him in real life.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Auggie Heschmeyer

    I had never read any Kafka before beginning this collection, but I had heard the term Kafkaesque thrown around a lot. Based on my understanding of the term, I expected a collection of overwhelmingly oppressive, Orwellian stories about the little man being at the mercy of the larger man and the vindictive universe as a whole. Instead, what I got was a single story about a man turned into a cockroach and a number of sweet little stories about people wondering about their place in the world and wha I had never read any Kafka before beginning this collection, but I had heard the term Kafkaesque thrown around a lot. Based on my understanding of the term, I expected a collection of overwhelmingly oppressive, Orwellian stories about the little man being at the mercy of the larger man and the vindictive universe as a whole. Instead, what I got was a single story about a man turned into a cockroach and a number of sweet little stories about people wondering about their place in the world and what else their might be. And rather than an overbearing narrative style meant to show the futility of it all, there was nothing but simple (albeit borderline run-on) sentences describing things rather plainly. For example, Metamorphosis doesn't concern itself with the character cursing the universe or tearing his antennae out wondering why he's a cockroach. Instead, Gregor is more concerned with his relationship to his family and how his condition affects them. I was delightfully surprised at the matter of fairness of it all. The collection precedes Metamorphosis with Kafka's first group of short stories which barely last longer than two pages, but effectively create an atmosphere and setting better than full length novels. The second collection of shorts, A Country Doctor: Short Prose for my Father, is the the weakest of the whole book as it lacks the charm and bright-eyed wonderment at the absurdity of life that the preceding stories have in abundance. The third collection of shorts feel the most "Kafkaesque" and are far more negative than the other works in this book; however, they are appealing in their negativity. I loved reading this book and Kafka has become one of my favorite writers. I can't wait to read more of his works.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    This is a collection of Franz Kafka's shorter works, both fiction and non-fiction, that were published in his lifetime. The highlights of The Metamorphosis and Other Stories are, in addition to the title story, "A Country Doctor," "Before the Law," "In the Penal Colony," and "A Huger Artist." Among the few nonfiction pieces, I enjoyed "The Airplanes at Brescia," about an airshow circa 1910. Although I have read many (but not all) of these stories decades ago, they did not pale by re-reading, as m This is a collection of Franz Kafka's shorter works, both fiction and non-fiction, that were published in his lifetime. The highlights of The Metamorphosis and Other Stories are, in addition to the title story, "A Country Doctor," "Before the Law," "In the Penal Colony," and "A Huger Artist." Among the few nonfiction pieces, I enjoyed "The Airplanes at Brescia," about an airshow circa 1910. Although I have read many (but not all) of these stories decades ago, they did not pale by re-reading, as many stories do. "The Metamorphosis," in particular, impressed me with its freshness even though I have read it multiple times. This is a worthy volume for anyone who, like me, thinks of Kafka as one of the great authors of the 20th century.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Cameron

    Striving to understand the frequent usage of "Kafkaesque" to describe a proliferation of things literary, I found a nice bargain copy of this translation of Kafka many moons past. I'm unsure if I accomplished my goal, being left wondering if I need to read The Trial to solidify that understanding, yet having no desire to engage anymore with his works. This collection of stories left me repulsed ("The Metamorphosis"), disgusted ("In the Penal Colony"), irritated ("The Stoker"), or bored (all incl Striving to understand the frequent usage of "Kafkaesque" to describe a proliferation of things literary, I found a nice bargain copy of this translation of Kafka many moons past. I'm unsure if I accomplished my goal, being left wondering if I need to read The Trial to solidify that understanding, yet having no desire to engage anymore with his works. This collection of stories left me repulsed ("The Metamorphosis"), disgusted ("In the Penal Colony"), irritated ("The Stoker"), or bored (all inclusive). I used the experience as a stylistic exercise, but even that failed to render the stories any more approachable for me. Taking a month to finally finish, the slow progress was a source of frustration, and the more frustrating thought is that Kafka would have probably found that entirely too funny.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Annie Fuller

    Metamorphosis, yes; other stories, not so much A classic I obliged myself to read. I enjoyed works where the premise was clear from the start, in particular ones that involved viewing humanity through the lenses of animal transformation (including the Metamorphosis and A Report to the Academy). I was less interested in stories that seemed to be intentionally vague about the twist until petering our in the end, or were tirades of human personality — less in a piercing Russian literature sort of wa Metamorphosis, yes; other stories, not so much A classic I obliged myself to read. I enjoyed works where the premise was clear from the start, in particular ones that involved viewing humanity through the lenses of animal transformation (including the Metamorphosis and A Report to the Academy). I was less interested in stories that seemed to be intentionally vague about the twist until petering our in the end, or were tirades of human personality — less in a piercing Russian literature sort of way where human foibles are dissected across a wide set of developed characters, but more in a way where Kafka’s narrator rants repetitiously about a single character for too many pages.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Levi

    Any writer worth their salt will tell you this: write what you know. And only a brief survey of Kafka’s life outside of his works is required in order to understand that his stories were an exercise in just this. Alas, this collection of stories (and Kafka’s body of work at large) reveal to us what Kafka really knew in his short, sad life: alienation, loneliness, spiritual longing, life’s absurdities, dysfunctional relationships… unfortunately, the list goes on. But thank God Kafka knew what he Any writer worth their salt will tell you this: write what you know. And only a brief survey of Kafka’s life outside of his works is required in order to understand that his stories were an exercise in just this. Alas, this collection of stories (and Kafka’s body of work at large) reveal to us what Kafka really knew in his short, sad life: alienation, loneliness, spiritual longing, life’s absurdities, dysfunctional relationships… unfortunately, the list goes on. But thank God Kafka knew what he knew. Who else could have possibly represented so fluently the symbolic language of life’s most inescapable tragedies? Kafka, Kafka, Kafka.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Max

    I'm only giving this four stars instead of five because some of the shorter pieces didn't wow me, and one or two bored me enough that I skipped to the end of them. If this book were only In the Penal Colony, The Metamorphosis, and a specific handful of the shorter stories - Conversation with the Supplicant, A Report to an Academy, Eleven Sons, A Dream, a few others whose names are escaping me - it would've been a full five stars for sure. As it turns out, when Kafka clicks with me he REALLY clic I'm only giving this four stars instead of five because some of the shorter pieces didn't wow me, and one or two bored me enough that I skipped to the end of them. If this book were only In the Penal Colony, The Metamorphosis, and a specific handful of the shorter stories - Conversation with the Supplicant, A Report to an Academy, Eleven Sons, A Dream, a few others whose names are escaping me - it would've been a full five stars for sure. As it turns out, when Kafka clicks with me he REALLY clicks with me.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Pınar Aydoğdu

    This book contains Kafka’s stories including one of his famous work ‘The Metamorphosis’. The stories in the first part of the book deals with daily lives stories. Three long stories The Judgment, The Metamorphosis and In the Penal Colony are the most efficient stories in the book. However, among other interesting short stories of the fourth part of the book, Jackals and Arabs, and A Report to an Academy are the most remarkable ones. A Hunger Artist, which is included in the last part of the book This book contains Kafka’s stories including one of his famous work ‘The Metamorphosis’. The stories in the first part of the book deals with daily lives stories. Three long stories The Judgment, The Metamorphosis and In the Penal Colony are the most efficient stories in the book. However, among other interesting short stories of the fourth part of the book, Jackals and Arabs, and A Report to an Academy are the most remarkable ones. A Hunger Artist, which is included in the last part of the book, is one of Kafka’s noteworthy works, too.

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