Franz Kafka's diaries and letters suggest that his fascination with America grew out of a desire to break away from his native Prague, even if only in his imagination. Kafka died before he could finish what he like to call his "American novel,: but he clearly entitled it Der Verschollene ("The Missing Person") in a letter to his fiancee, Felice Bauer, in 1912. Kafka began writing the novel that fall and wrote until the last completed chapter in 1914, but in wasn't until 1927, three years after his death, that Amerika--the title that Kafka's friend and literary executor Max Brod gave his edited version of the unfinished manuscript--was published in Germany by Kurt Wolff Verlag. An English translation by Willa and Edwin Muir was published in Great Britain in 1932 and in the United States in 1946.
Over the last thirty years, an international team of Kafka scholars has been working on German-language critical editions of all of Kafka's writings, going back to the original manuscripts and notes, correcting transcription errors, and removing Brod's editorial and stylistic interventions to create texts that are as close as possible to the way the author left them.
With the same expert balance of precision and nuance that marked his award-winning translation of The Castle, Mark Harman now restores the humor ad particularity of language in his translation of the critical edition of Der Verschollene. Here is the story of young Karl Rossman, who, following an incident involving a housemaid, is banished by his parents to America. With unquenchable optimism and in the company of two comic-sinister companions, he throws himself into misadventure, eventually heading towards Oklahoma, where a career in the theater beckons. Though we can never know how Kafka planned to end the novel, Harman's superb translation allows us to appreciate, as closely as possible, what Kafka did commit to the page.
About the Author
Franz Kafka was born to Jewish parents in Bohemia in 1883. Kafka's father was a luxury goods retailer who worked long hours and as a result never became close with his son. Kafka's relationship with his father greatly influenced his later writing and directly informed his Brief an den Vater (Letter to His Father). Kafka had a thorough education and was fluent in both German and Czech. As a young man, he was hired to work at an insurance company where he was quickly promoted despite his desire to devote his time to writing rather than insurance. Over the course of his life, Kafka wrote a great number of stories, letters, and essays, but burned the majority of his work before his death and requested that his friend Max Brod burn the rest. Brod, however, did not fulfill this request and published many of the works in the years following Kafka's death of tuberculosis in 1924. Thus, most of Kafka's works were published posthumously, and he did not live to see them recognized as some of the most important examples of literature of the twentieth century. Kafka's works are considered among the most significant pieces of existentialist writing, and he is remembered for his poignant depictions of internal conflicts with alienation and oppression. Some of Kafka's most famous works include The Metamorphosis, The Trial and The Castle.
Mark Harman, who has written extensively on German and Irish literature, is Professor of English and German at Elizabethtown College.
Praise for Mark Harman’s translation of The Castle
“Semantically accurate to an admirable degree, faithful to Kafka’s nuances, responsive to the tempo of his sentences and to the larger music of his paragraph construction. For the general reader or for the student, it will be the translation of preference for some time to come.”
--J. M. Coetzee, The New York Review of Books
“There is a great deal to applaud in Harman’s translation. It gives us a much better sense of Kafka’s uncompromising and disturbing originality as a prose master than we have heretofore had in English.”
--Robert Alter, The New Republic
“A major and long-awaited event in English language publishing [and] a wonderful piece of news for all Kafka readers, who, for more than half a century, have had to rely on flawed, superannuated editions. Harman is to be commended for his success in capturing the fresh, fluid, almost breathless style of Kafka’s original manuscript.”
--Professor Mark M. Anderson, Department of Germanic Languages, Columbia University