by Franz Kafka
The inclusion of quite a few posthumously published works in Franz Kafka: The Complete Short Stories fills me with conflicting emotions. On the one hand, given that Kafka requested that his unpublished stories be destroyed after his death, I feel as though I have no right to look upon them. As a writer, however, it became impossible to help myself a surreptitious glance into everything that would allow me to learn from such an extraordinary author. Of course, many of the unpublished works are noticeably unfinished, some merely lacking the focus of his published work, others breaking off mid-thought. Thus, while I was delighted to see earlier stages in Kafka’s process, I wouldn’t significantly judge his worth off of stories that were never meant for my eyes.
Even with the lack of polish on these unpublished stories, they do undoubtedly share one thing with the published ones: incredibly specific prose. Kafka is one in a long line of authors I’ve had the fortune of reading in the last while––and, besides Gogol, probably the oldest––who provides such detailed and evocative imagery that makes his worlds come vividly to life. However, where this can partially explain his skilful writing, it does little to explain Kafka’s uniqueness. To address that, I would point toward his astonishing vision. Given that the stories in this collection were written approximately a century ago, I was naturally quite surprised to see the author able to cover such a wide range of topics in not only a very creative way, but with such a modern outlook. His stories thoughtfully comment on the burden when illness befalls a once productive member of the family (“The Metamorphosis”), fanaticism (“In the Penal Colony”), fighting for legitimacy with a public who completely misunderstands you (“A Hunger Artist”), and anxiety, paranoia, and obsession (“The Burrow”). Kafka is the first author I’ve encountered who I can confidently declare was very clearly ahead of his time.
In short, beautifully written and absolutely surprising, Franz Kafka: The Complete Short Stories strikes me as an indispensible collection for anyone who has an interest in writing and literature.