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The Castle (1926)

by Franz Kafka

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
7,00870923 (3.97)156
A surveyor is lost in a labyrinth in this 1926 German novel, reflecting the author's concern with man's inability to assert himself in the face of bureaucracy. It is a new translation that restores the eccentricities in style of the original.
  1. 42
    The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro (chrisharpe)
  2. 10
    The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips (4leschats)
    4leschats: Both deal with the surreality and dehumanization of bureaucracy
  3. 10
    The Music of Chance by Paul Auster (susanbooks)
  4. 00
    The Investigation by Philippe Claudel (jodocus)
  5. 00
    Ice by Anna Kavan (razorsoccamremembers)
  6. 00
    Metropole by Ferenc Karinthy (alzo)
    alzo: more kafka-esque than kafka, a man finds himself in an uknown city with an unrecognisable language, trying to find a way out of the city back home
  7. 01
    The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati (chrisharpe)
  8. 01
    Crash Gordon and the Mysteries of Kingsburg by Derek Swannson (jasbro)
  9. 13
    Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami (alzo)

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» See also 156 mentions

English (59)  French (2)  Italian (2)  Dutch (2)  Swedish (1)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  German (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (69)
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Genetics provides only the blueprint for a mind, and our brains are capable of reprogramming through learning and experience. If Kafka can so eloquently describe the complexity of the trap, you could see it as halfway to designing a means of improving the way we live. In “The Castle” Kafka describes K. climbing a wall as a child, not because he couldn't walk around it but because of the sense of achievement and improved perspective it gave. I think Kafka understood that to keep struggling was better than giving up. However dark his writing is, I'm not getting the same sense of nihilism I found with Camus. Re-reading “The Castle” kept reminding me of the film “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, with that same odd blend of dark surrealism and humour. Given that the film is based on the writing of Stefan Zweig, a contemporary of Kafka's, I can start to get a sense of him in the context of a time and place that was beginning to question tradition in art and society. I can view him as part of a world where traditional art was about to be confronted by the anti-bourgeois Dadaism. Kafka is giving me a claustrophobic vision of a man trapped within a Russian doll. First in his own mind, then by the people who surround him, then by the bureaucracy of an indifferent higher authority and finally by the incomprehensible nature and brevity of human existence. It must have rattled the complacency of a world where people believed they had already answered all the questions relating to modes of living; with class systems, religion, order and the rule of law. The time surrounding WW1 shows up over and over again in literature as a period of enormous change throughout Europe, and a reflection of that cataclysmic alteration is definitely there when I read Kafka's work. I can trace a process of confronting tradition and exposing its deficiencies from Dickens, through Kafka and onwards, to writers like Stella Gibbons. I'm sure there are many other authors that represent that same shift to more modern modes of thought, and if I ever become well-read enough, I'll likely find I can almost infinitely expand the list.
Kafka seems to be describing an issue of society, where people become trapped within roles and find that free will is limited to a narrow path by the potential detrimental consequences of straying from that path.

The interesting part is there is a suggestion that The Castle also appears to be made up of individuals fulfilling set roles, and this leads to the tantalising suggestion that that there is nobody in overall charge. Does the Village dictate the actions of the Castle as much as the other way around?

How free really is an individual government official, president, prime minister or even dictator to steer society away from a potentially self-destructive course? Are they constantly restricted by the role they play and the potential unwanted consequences of every small action? They can't alter the big picture because of the instability generated in even effecting a small change.

There was also a comedy series produced here a few years ago called “Yes Minister”, in which a government minister rapidly discovered that every noble action he tried to perform had unforeseen consequences that ended up in disaster. Kafka has this to say about the officials in “The Castle”:

"How can a single official issue a pardon? At best that could only be done by the authorities as a whole, but even they can't issue a pardon, only come to a decision."

I think the problem as Kafka saw it wasn't with individuals but in the societies we inevitably construct. Without building cooperative societies we could not have progressed to the point we have, but they also develop a momentum of their own which restricts us as individuals and can lead us down potentially collectively self-destructive paths. There is not yet a perfect society, only ones balanced on a knife edge which are less bad than others.

It's the paradox of both needing the construct of society and being controlled by it that Kafka describes so brilliantly. Society itself effectively becomes an entity which is outside anyone's control.

The interesting question is whether literature merely reflects changes that are already occurring in society or if writers, like Kafka, are actually driving that change. I kind of suspect the latter. ( )
1 vote antao | Aug 22, 2020 |
The simplicity of Kafka's style and the unrelenting direction of this tale still lends itself to multiple interpretations. It's easy to get lost in the labyrinthine passageways of the Castle, but it's not the walls that are difficult. It's the endlessly stimied goal.

For me, this is a novel of utter hopelessness. K's initial, simple request to see the lord of the castle from the position of a Surveyor quickly devolves into the darkest of comedies or, rather, a nihilistic tragedy, as he is regularly put through an increasingly onerous set of hoops. The entire staff of the castle seems set to keep him off the lord, but it grows very clear that everyone there is just as caught in the trap as K.

Utter hopelessness. Everyone's unhappy. Everyone is paranoid. And worst, they're all trapped in an unending cycle of self-perpetuating madness.

Why would anyone do this to themselves?

Well, here's the brilliance of this novel: it's us. Any single one of us. Every step of the way we take with K, he's being asked to do what anyone in our world is asked to do in any walk of life. Through the bureaucracy, gullibility, vindictiveness, fear, paranoia, resignation and worst of all, hope, every character is forced to go through their own hoops endlessly and with little good reason.

Truly, this is a nightmare.

BUT. It is also one hell of a good read, too. :) As the darkest of satires, it succeeds brilliantly. :) ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
This is an important classic existentialist novel in the vein of other Kafka's works: absurd, heavy, gloomy, with no exit and at the same time not without a comedic sense to it. As with most of other Kafka's writings it's hard to pin them to one meaning, they are morally ambiguous and open to different interpretations. Who's to argue that Kafka here was not describing life itself?

K. is the stranger who appears out of nowhere in sleepy village, a drifter, no one knows his past nor his goals. He is cold and rational and shows an uncanny ability to disarm with his arguments, winning a few hearts and minds in the process. The story, however, really takes off in Chapter 5 and 6, in which K. meets with the village mayor and the landlady, and the ensuing passages contain some brilliantly constructed dialogues. Everything in the village appears to be painfully slow, plain, mundane and yet at the same time deceitful and inexplicably complicated. Trying to reach the inaccessible fabled castle, K. finds himself in an absurd and strange existential drama and rebels. ( )
  Indrit | Dec 15, 2019 |
Review pending ( )
  leslie.98 | Nov 14, 2019 |
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» Add other authors (83 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kafka, Franzprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Böhmer, GunterIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bell, AntheaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bragg, BillIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brod, MaxEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fabian, ErwinCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harman, MarkTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kaiser, ErnstTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Muir, EdwinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Muir, WillaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pasley, MalcolmEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rho, AnitaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sötemann, GuusTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilkins, EithneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Linna (1986[0137])
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It was in the evening when K. arrived.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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A surveyor is lost in a labyrinth in this 1926 German novel, reflecting the author's concern with man's inability to assert himself in the face of bureaucracy. It is a new translation that restores the eccentricities in style of the original.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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