Since the Czech Republic is such a small and easily forgotten country, the Czech people are extremely proud of their celebrities. Probably one of the most famous Czechs of all time is the writer, Franz Kafka, whose most famous book is The Metamorphosis. Kafka was born in Prague, but at the time of his birth Prague was in Austria. The Czech Republic didn’t exist. By today’s boundary lines, however, Kafka is most certainly a Czech. Although he was born in Prague, Kafka spoke German, so The Metamorphosis was originally written in German. It’s interesting to note that many of Kafka’s themes have to do with dehumanization and isolation. This is probably has a lot to do with the fact that Kafka was raised as a member of Prague’s Jewish minority during let turn of the century.
In one of the tucked away corners of Prague, very near to the school I taught at while I was living in Prague, is a bronze statue of Kafka. In my opinion, the artist did a perfect job of capturing all the weirdness of Kafka’s personality and work. As you can see in the picture above, Kafka is portrayed as riding on the shoulders of a headless, handless man. I wish I’d brought my camera to school with me more often so that I could have caught a picture during the day, but this is the only one I’ve got. Still, I think you get the picture. To me, this is a portrayal of Kafka being carried away by his imagination. If you’ve read his work, I’m sure you can understand why I feel this way.
The Metamorphosis is about a young man named Gregor Samsa who works to support his family. One morning, however, Gregor wakes up to discover that his body has changed overnight and he is no longer a human, he’s a giant cockroach. The book follows the days of Gregor’s life as a bug and chronicles his family’s reaction to his change. His father is cruel and locks him in his room, but his mother and sister take care of him by bringing him food and cleaning his room when he knocks things over. After the food stops coming, Gregor begins to starve to death. He gets weaker and weaker until finally, he dies. Only he doesn’t really die. Gregor wakes up after dying as a bug to discover that he’s a man again. No worries, if you think this story sounds weird, you’re right. It really is. But that’s just Kafka.
Being the self-proclaming book geek that I am, I was so proud that I’d saved The Metamorphosis (one of the books on a fairly long reading list I’ve made for myself) to read while I was in Kafka’s homeland. It’s a short book, so it only took me a few rides on the metro to have the entire thing finished, but the thrill of knowing that I was getting the full Kafka experience was unbeatable. I can’t expect that any of you readers will be as overwhelmingly nerd prone as I am, but I will recommend highly that you pick up a copy of The Metamorphosis and read it during the breaks life throws your way. You won’t need many. An average speed reader could have this book finished in one sitting, definitely. Even if you don’t have the opportunity to read Kafka while strolling his native streets, I still think every one would enjoy reading his work.