Detailing a hellish world in which citizens can be arrested without valid cause, Franz Kafka’s The Trial is a story that underlines the powerlessness of the individual against the machine of society.
Initiated through the arrest of protagonist Josef K, the novel charts K’s attempts to try and clear his name and understand the forces working against him. Efforts, which ultimately lead him to the depressing realisation that true freedom can never be achieved. Written between 1914 and 1915, prior to the rise of totalitarian states that left lasting scars on the world, history has proven the story to be chillingly prophetic; cementing its status as an epochal novel. But arguably most unnerving of all is the question surrounding freedom that it raises. K’s hopeless situation though thankfully not a direct reflection of today’s world, serves nonetheless as a disturbing reminder that the price of life within a civilised society is a lifetime bond to bureaucracy. Bureaucracy which can, at any point in history, be manipulated to form an all-conquering juggernaut.
Published after Kafka’s death, The Trial is a story clearly written from a place of deep disillusionment with society and dismay at the futility of any attempts to escape it. Kafka’s failure to complete the story before his death (his literary executor Max Brod instigated its eventual publication) appears in many ways fitting. Almost as though Kafka’s frustration with life was such that he ultimately ran out of time express it fully within his work. Like Kafka’s life, which ended at the age of 40 due to tuberculosis, The Trial is a tragic story, but its impact, nearly a century after its brilliant but troubled creator’s death, endures.
Rating: 4/5 Sucks you into a confined world from which there is no way out. A book that prompts one to ponder the ideal of freedom.