“The Trial” by Franz Kafka

The Trial(Author: Franz Kafka) + (Year: 1925) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: Czech Republic)


Review:

For me “classic” literature goes in one of two ways: I either find a certain book absolutely amazing; or I dislike it profoundly. Unfortunately, The Trial was the latter.

I believe the popularity of this book is based on the symbolism, rather than the writing itself. While I do admit the general notion of the book is one I fully support – that of the pointless and even vile system of the Law, – I could not be bothered caring about the book itself.

What the book represents:

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One of the things that everyone would agree is absolutely terrible is bureaucracy. We all hate it. It’s not only tiresome and ridiculous, but it is also like a machine that actually does damage, rather than just lose time. The law, the courts, the lawyers, the bureaucrats, they are a giant, horrifying monster which never shows mercy and destroys life after life. The Trial is a story which shows this very plainly. The main character, Josef K., is swallowed by the monster called the Law and put to a trial for a crime which is never explained to him.

Every person he meets tries to convince him that he has to give in to the Court, accept the crime as his own, and embark on a journey in which he has to prove not that he is not guilty, but that his guilt is yet to be proven – the purpose of that being that he will continue living free until the court’s final decision, which can take decades. Josef K., realizing that this can hardly be called freedom, decides to fight this flawed system and insist that he is not guilty. Under the heavy wheels of the court, his trial ends tragically, as has the heavy trial of bureaucracy and the machine of communism. The sensational part of this is that The Trial, Kafka’s almost prophetic novel, was written without his ever coming face to face with the communism, which would only appear almost a decade after he wrote his book.

How the book actually was:

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Boring. That’s how it was. The general feel of the book was very dreary and uncomfortable, up to a point I would get frustrated every time I had to start reading (that being early every morning, on the tram commute to work). I kind of expected I would like Kafka’s writing, but this book did not do it for me.

The personality of Josef K., a selfish, pretentious prick, was very infuriating, as were his internal struggles which never really made anything of consequence. By that I mean that the character would always make a decision which would take page after page of explanation, and the moment he met another person, that entire, endlessly too long list of future actions would be completely wiped out and he would start a new plan of action against the Court.

I fully realize that there is a reason for the actions of the Court to be unpleasant to read, but the dread for me went beyond the intentional one. I just couldn’t take any more of the characters, each and every one completely smitten with their own selves, the bragging, the nagging, the way everyone was sure everyone else was a moron and they, themselves, a god.

The dialogues were equally as suffocating and I couldn’t wait for every dialogue to just end. The words of each character just rang hollow and fake and the emotions expressed didn’t really manage to affect me in any way.

I am still planning on reading The Metamorphosis, but definitely not any time soon.

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“Kuyruklu Yıldız Altında Bir İzdivaç” by Hüseyin Rahmi Gürpınar

Kuyruklu Yıldız Altında Bir Evlenme(Author: Hüseyin Rahmi Gürpınar) + (Year: 1912) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: Turkey)


Review:

The title of this book translates as “a marriage under a comet”, the comet in question being the Halley comet. The story follows the lives of several people, who are preparing for the coming of the Halley comet, some of them terrified of the end of the world, and some, taken by the fire of love.

I was rather curious about the book, as it is considered one of the classics of Turkish literature, with the author being one of the people who are still studied in school and university. I can imagine how this book was progressive and unexpected for its time, however, in our age, it seems very grotesquely simplistic in terms of interpersonal relations. The relationship between the main characters develops in a very absurd, intentionally or not so, way, with the main character falling in love with the girl by the end of her first letter to him.

For the life of me, I could not do anything but strongly dislike Irfan Galip, who was the epitome of a daft male who thinks himself intelligent and progressive, while at the same time acting like he is so much better than everyone else, women most of all. His dismissive attitude toward the woman’s desires to be treated as an equally intelligent individual frustrated me so much. Even today I have received that attitude from men and I couldn’t help but hate seeing it in this book, too: “I believe that women are just as smart as men, but please shut up when I speak and leave the men to fix this.” It’s the same thing that I’ve seen with people in highly religious countries who say “I’m atheist, but it would be highly immoral for my sister to be a waitress because it goes against the foundations of society.” IT DOES? Or does it, perhaps, go against the religious beliefs that are so deeply ingrained in you that you don’t even realize that you are abiding by them?

One thing I did approve of however, was the depiction of the woman who, despite everything, was trying to be emancipated and well-read. At the time this book was written, the place of the woman in the Ottoman empire was not in the university or the library, so I can only imagine how shocking it was that the author challenged that position of the woman in his world.

“Our Lady of the Nile” by Scholastique Mukasonga

Our Lady of the Nile(Author: Scholastique Mukasonga) + (Year: 2012) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: Rwanda)


Review:

*** 3.5 stars ***

This book is just what I needed to remind me why I decided to follow the reading around the world challenge. It’s such a good profile of the situation in Rwanda for the time period and even much after (as the book is set before the 1994 Tutsi genocide), that I couldn’t help but feel carried away into the world of the book.

Our Lady of the Nile delves deeply into the psychology of the regular Rwandans, depicting their beliefs, the struggles in society, the aftermath of the Belgian colonial era, the political issues and their effect on the “small” people.

I really enjoyed the simplicity of the narrative, the rather uneducated girls who still believe in witch doctors, or so-called poisoners, and who are trying to keep their own culture, all the while feeling like they need to also be different, more white, more Belgian. The book shows the discrepancy between the “own” and the “other”, between what people want and what they think they should want.

Ever since seeing Hotel Rwanda, I have been having a hard time coping with the senseless violence and this conflict between Hutu and Tutsi, which was completely fabricated and artificial, and was created by the Belgians in order to divide and conquer. I have a really hard time grasping the idea that people would be as easily manipulated as to actually believe in this “racial” separation and even shed blood over it. And yet, they obviously are. So I keep reading information about it, trying to make myself understand. While Our Lady of the Nile didn’t solve it for me, it definitely showed a different side of the problem, as lived in a school for girls.

I really enjoyed the setting of the book, the intricate descriptions of the Rwandan society, their beliefs, the feelings of the young girls, even the taste of the Rwandan food. It was a breath of air from far, far away.

What I didn’t like as much was the actual method of narration that the author used. Rather than the reader being a participant in the events, they were just stories that someone tells. This made the book a bit repetitive, because it just followed the flow of: This is (name), she meets (name), and she starts telling her a story. It could work in a different type of a book, but in this case, it just seemed very distracting, because it took away from the flow of the book.

Even despite that, I think Our Lady of the Nile was a pretty nice book.

“The Devil’s Prayer” by Luke Gracias

The Devil's Prayer(Author: Luke Gracias) + (Year: 2016) + (Goodreads)


Review:

The Devil’s Prayer were two very interesting books!

The reason I say this is that there can be a line drawn very distinctively between the first and the second part of the book, and each could have been perfectly great on its own.

The Devil’s Prayer is the story of a woman, Denise, who, after winning the lottery is abducted, raped and left to die. Instead of dying, she makes a deal with the Devil. Later on, she finds out about the existence of an old book, one part of which is called The Devil’s Prayer, and she sets out to find it.

I greatly enjoyed the first part of the book – the story of Denise before she started looking for the book. It was a page turner and it was very exciting and creative. The end of this first story was a big surprise, even though I had guessed the general lines of where it was headed.

The second part, the one about The Devil’s Prayer, was something else. It was interesting in a completely different way. This storyline was more in the vicinity of Dan Brown back when I enjoyed his works, and it had a great plot behind it. It also sort of reminded me of one of my favourites, The Historian, so that was another bonus for me. However, this part of the book also felt underdeveloped. It took entirely too little time in terms of the book, and it could have been so much bigger and more explosive. The author had a great “conspiracy theory” about a document signed between Arnaud Amalric and Jebe Noyan in the 13th century. I would have LOVED to read a more detailed and suspenseful novel about this. Not to mention that part of this story was set in Bulgaria, so I couldn’t help but being proud of our history. Sadly, it seems that the author wasn’t sure what to do with this treasure of a plot line, so he rushed it and he left big parts of it just hanging there.

The ending of the book was also not ideal. The entire narrative seemed like the introduction to a much larger story, which never happened. The ending was supposed to be, in my mind, a bigger event, and instead it was left completely unresolved. If there’s a second book coming, I would definitely read it, because the ending didn’t satisfy my curiosity.

Nevertheless, a very interesting book indeed.

  • Also, for those who have read the book, this is the vampire burial from Perperikon:

vampir_perperikon

He had a metal knife stuck in his heart, and his left leg was cut off under the knee, severed in three and put next to the body. As The Devil’s Prayer points out, this grave is from the 13th century and this “anti-vampire” ritual was Christian.

“The Door” by Magda Szabo

The Door

(Author: Magda Szabo) + (Year: 1987) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: Hungary)


Review:

While on a trip to Budapest, I decided that to help my “Around the World” book challenge, I should buy a book written by a local author in each country that I visit. The Door was one of two books that I got there (the other one being Satantango). I had really high hopes for The Door because of the slightly mystical and fairy-tale-like description.

It was not meant to be.

The Door is a dreary book. The premise was good, but the same can’t be said about the author. Magda Szabo, to me, was not all that she is claimed to be. It seemed like she tried to make the narrator her own self, except that she went heavy on the bragging, which was very annoying. Her character is so very sophisticated, educated, smart, talented. Well… Emerence, the housekeeper, sometimes tells her that’she’s stupid and childish… But Emerence doesn’t mean it, she loves her. Right?

However, nothing is more annoying than the main character of Emerence. Emerence is as bipolar as they come. Szabo would have you believe that she is a saint, that she is a genius, misunderstood, clever, with impeccable taste, etc, etc, etc. However, Emerence is so self-contradictory that the author’s descriptions fall very short. For example, Emerence is supposedly a reserved woman of few words, who likes to do her work, but doesn’t like to show affection. Two pages later: everyone in town loves Emerence who is everyone’s confidante. People come to visit her day and night and sit on her porch for hours to talk to her, get advice or help, gossip. However, Emerence is also always working and she is never actually home. She sleeps on the loveseat for a couple of hours and then goes back to work. She’s so busy that even the people who pay her to do the housekeeping sometimes don’t see her for days on end.

So… how does that work exactly?

tenor

In general, the book was highly repetitive, the same episodes went on and on and on and on again, until the reader was perfectly able to construct the steps on their own. Also, considering how many times the author revealed small details of the ending, at some point it was so obvious that the actual ending felt dragged out for no reason. Like the narrator’s endless visits to the hospital. I will not reveal spoilers, but for 50 pages the exact same thing was happening and the only difference between every few pages were the narrator’s ominous musings and attempts at being philosophical.

There might be many great Hungarian books, but I would not say that this is one of them.