122 of 130 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the great literary nightmares of the past century
Franz Kafka was obsessed with dreams, and THE CASTLE is his attempt to depict the modern world of corporate and governmental bureaucracy as a crazed nightmare. The novel possesses the logic of dreams, and there is a dreamlike quality to everything that happens in the book. As in a dream, people and situations transform effortlessly into something entirely different, as...
Published on March 3, 2004 by Robert Moore
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars No Gates
The most amazing thing about the castle, is Kafka's relation to it...the fact that Kafka died just before he was going to write the chapters in which K finally got into the castle. I do no believe this story is one of futility. I don't think that's what Kafka meant. Nor do I think he intended humor. Instead, I look at the castle as a testament to daily drudgery...
Published on January 12, 1999
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122 of 130 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the great literary nightmares of the past century,
Franz Kafka was obsessed with dreams, and THE CASTLE is his attempt to depict the modern world of corporate and governmental bureaucracy as a crazed nightmare. The novel possesses the logic of dreams, and there is a dreamlike quality to everything that happens in the book. As in a dream, people and situations transform effortlessly into something entirely different, as when one of the young, silly assistants of the protagonist K. suddenly appears to be a much older, decrepit man. Though his transformation is absurd, it is part and parcel of the logic of the village dominated by The Castle.
I first read this novel years ago when the only option in translation was the Muir translation. This new complete translation, which includes a large section that Kafka's friend and literary executor Max Brod decided to excise, transforms the novel into an entirely different book. For one thing, the section that Brod left out indicates even more vividly the degree to which the novel is concerned with depicting the more horrific aspects of modern bureaucratic life. For another, the manner in which the text simply breaks off in mid-sentence reinforces the nightmarish quality of the book, for just as we wake up from a dream, never able to complete the tale, so we break away from the narrative, never knowing what K.'s fate is.
The novel contains more a situation than a plot. K., a surveyor, arrives in a village having been hired by the local Castle, presumably to survey. Instead, K. quickly learns that he may not have been hired at all, and manages to break rapidly a number of laws of which he was utterly unaware and whose logic is far from obvious. In this way we see Kafka exploring one of the great themes of his literature: that all individuals are guilty until proven innocent, and that we have no idea what it means to be innocent. K.'s plight becomes more and more absurd and confused all the way until the point at which Kafka ceased working on the novel.
That Kafka gave up working on the novel isn't completely surprising. His method of writing was to growth the text like one would a plant, not necessarily knowing where the story was going, but instead allowing it to develop as it wished. Unlike virtually every other great writer of the past two hundred years, Kafka was almost completely unconcerned with either character development or with plot. It wasn't that he was bad at character: it simply didn't concern him. He was far more interested in pure situations, as if they were thought experiments. For instance, what would happen if a man awoke one morning to find that he had been transformed into a giant beetle? Or, what would happen if someone were accused of a crime, but knew neither accuser, the crime of which he is being accused, or where his trial was to be held? Or, what would happen if a man showed up in a village to work as a surveyor, but discovered that he had neither a position nor means to contact those who had hired him?
One reading this novel should keep in mind that Kafka spent his entire professional life working as a risk manager in an insurance company. He was acutely aware of the nature of corporate bureaucracy, and the myriad of silly rules and the amount of red tape inundating modern corporate and political life. Some tend towards a metaphysical reading of the novel, and while the book is not immune to such a reading, I think it can be better read on a more concrete social level. Kafka worked in an office his entire adult life, until his tuberculosis forced him to retire on what today would be workers' disability. He knew first hand the degrading, callous, and inhuman nature of the bureaucratic culture that was threatening to engulf modern urban living. Unfortunately, he did not, like K. in the novel, know how to escape the nightmare himself, or give us advice on how we could escape it ourselves.
34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Getting by in a dream world...,
Those like myself who seldom read fiction but enjoy looking at the world through different lenses may find the reading of this work rewarding. K's travails evoked memories of my time in the military (in Southeast Asia): nothing is as it appears, days of boredom are interrupted by moments of bewildering activity, people have whole menus of hidden agendae, one struggles to attain goals that later prove empty of significance, chance meetings turn out to have been pivotal, and apparently chance meetings turn out to have been carefully staged for one's benefit (or detriment!). K lives in a world very much like ours... where the puppetmasters are unknown strangers, and our companions turn out to be very unlike what they appear. If this novel has any practical value (heresy!) it is as a manual on techniques of 'how to navigate in the dark.' For those who doubt it, one can navigate in the dark, but one must use one's ears (distant sounds of crashing waves, the echoes of thunder, the direction of the seabreezes). The biggest obstacle to finding one's way is a full moon -- one can see the sea, but the stars (far more important!) disappear from view. ... All in all, I liked Kafka's book. As each of the characters around him reveal the reasons behind their bizarre behaviors, they become 'normal' humans, disappointing but less weird. K is in some ways a lightning rod, provoking his very upset neighbors into revealing the reasons for their anger and frustration with him. After awhile one doesn't even care any more about The Castle and its occupants; the village is more real and surviving in it is a lot more important than escaping from it.
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nightmarish fare will haunt your dreams,
I read somewhere that Kafka used to read the newly-written chapters of THE CASTLE to his friends who would laugh uproariously along with the author. I found this the scariest thing about the book, indeed one of the strongest clues that late 20th century America is immeasurably distant from early 20th century Austria-Hungary. This book will give you nightmares. It is nothing so childish as a Hollywood horror movie, but a somehow crumpled, twisted, horrifying view of human nature, especially as manifest in bureaucracies. K needs to speak to someone to get something done. He approaches the castle where the lord lives. The whole story involves his endless efforts to speak to someone, anyone, who can help him contact the servant who has the ear of the clerk who can speak to the courtier who might be able to talk to the cousin who occasionally is known to have the ear of the lord. And of course, K is continually frustrated. Not to mention you, the reader. It is the stuff of the worst nightmares. Thus, though it is extremely unpleasant,without any hint of beauty, love, or human feeling, THE CASTLE is a most powerful novel, one of the best I have ever read. I can't say I liked it, but it impressed me no end. If you have ever read anything else by Kafka and liked it, you will definitely like this one. It was never finished, but then such a novel can have no finish.
37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Account of Alienation and Absurdity,
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Review of "The Castle" by Franz Kafka
This book made me into a Kafka admirer. He brings life to characters in otherwise drab situations and makes them seem very real. The reader feels the frustration, absurdity, the pettiness and the powerlessness in a personal way. You feel the haughtiness and aloofness of the Castle staff as if they were a part of your own community. You feel the pettiness and delusional gossip of the townspeople as if you were seeing it first hand. The story is riveting and the pace seems fast even when there is little action.
The story starts with the protagonist (identified only by his initial, K.) walking to what sounds like a routine surveying job. Soon he is frustrated by a very confusing series of obstacles. As the story develops the obstacles become more chaotic. K.'s original purpose in going to the castle is never fully elaborated and his motives seem lost or stolen. The forces acting upon K. are shrouded. It seems as if some invisible force has plotted to test K. to the limit of human endurance of tolerance of ambiguity.
Kafka combines the themes of:
social class commentary,
alienation from a heartless social system,
absence of any protective power,
fear of strangers,
fear of change,
search for the meaning of life,
inscrutability of authorities,
indifference of forces ruling human fate,
persistence in the face lost purpose,
abuse of power
acceptance of pointlessness goals.
As the plot progresses it takes on a surreal nightmare quality. Is the protagonist having a nightmare, going insane or confronting the reality of his situation?
There is no end to the frustration. We are never told if K. is having a nightmare or going insane. We never discover why K. is so determined to enter the castle that he would tolerate and even join in to the absurdity. His original purpose of doing a surveying job could never justify his struggle to gain admittance. We are left seeing K. as a perpetual outsider. Perhaps Kafka is telling us that there is no end or limit to frustration, alienation and absurdity. Those seeking an answer to the ageless enigma of existence will never find a simple resolution.
This is a disturbing work that challenges conventional notions of plot and character development while testing the readers conception of his/her purpose in life. The Castle will confront the reader in unexpected ways and raise emotional personal issues that would otherwise be repressed.
The Diaries of Franz Kafka (Schocken Classics Series)
Collected Stories (Everyman's Library)
The Zürau Aphorisms of Franz Kafka
Blue Octavo Notebooks
Kafka's Selected Stories (Norton Critical Edition)
Give It Up: And Other Short Stories
Great German Short Stories (Dover Thrift Editions)
I highly recommend this book.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absurdist and Wonderful,
There are so many levels to Kafka's writing, it's hard to write about his masterpiece in such a small space. The Castle is a book that shows a political system the people cannot get in touch with, never really see, and can only guess at. This was written around 1920, pre-Orwell, pre-Huxley, even pre-Anthem, a distopia novel that is better than any others. Kafka's citizens, like America's, can never really contact the Castle like how we cannot ever really contact our castle, the white house, directly. This book may even be considered a work of prophesy by one of the greatest geniuses to ever live.
Another great thing about this book is how is shows nothing ever beginning or ending. K. tries to get to the Castle, doesn't; K. fires his assistants, he sees them again; K. is accepted as the surveyor, he is denied... Nothing seems to have a point, but that in itself is the point. Life is just and endless round of disappoints and no no clear cut endings or beginnings. Life is absurd, and while we may laugh at the antics of the assistants at first, doesn't it get kind of creepy after a while, kind of like you KNOW people like that, people who you can see through but everyone else loves for some reason?
This book is dense, long, and very dark. It may also be (next to Ulysses) the most important work of fiction of the twentieth century, showing us how absurd and useless are lives really are. No one can ever reach the castle, it stands in sight, but we can never achieve the enlighenment or promminence nessicary to get inside. Kafka's genius will astound you, but I would suggest reading The Trial and some of the short stories before attempting to tackle this difficult work. It pays to be "in the Kafka know" when reading The Castle, it'll be much more enjoyable.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars We have always lived outside the Castle,
With its labyrinthine backdrop and its claustrophobic atmosphere, "The Castle" is, above all, a novel about frustration: irritation at ignorance, exasperation with complacency, and above all, annoyance with bureaucracy.
And it can be frustrating for readers, too. The book was unfinished; it ends mid-sentence; and the new Harman translation (which is the one I read) attempts to restore the book to its raw, unpunctuated state. Because its themes center on the mindlessness of officialdom and the repetitiveness of red tape, Kafka's portrayal can seem mindless and repetitive. (Nowhere is this more apparent than in the scene where K. visits with Burgel, whose interminable monologue lulls K. to sleep. It worked like a charm on me, too, and I had to reread the chapter.)
Yet the book contains passages both memorable and quotable, characters that are recognizable, and mysteries (however unsolved) that can be fascinating. As a result, it's a book best read in small doses to appreciate both the author's dry (and even slapstick) humor and, even more, the work's satirical bite.
The plot, such as it is, can be summarized in a brief description. Called to work as a land surveyor for village, K. arrives only to discover that the request was a mistake, that none of the officials in the Castle will take responsibility for their mistake or meet with him to discuss it, and that the townsfolk neither know nor care what it is that the officials and their secretaries do. In short, nobody gets into the Castle. Instead, K. is given a job as a janitor in a school, falls in love with a barmaid, and attempts to meet with Klamm, the official who has allegedly been assigned to his "case."
The Castle's functionless bureaucrats cannot be said to impede K.'s quest; they are hardly seen during the course of his stay. K.'s frustration is amplified not by their active interference but rather by their negligence and obfuscation. The result is far worse, since K. can't even identify with whom he should be struggling or how he should proceed. The officials and their secretaries are so busy with their own paperwork and routines that they really don't have time to attend to anything else, least of all concern themselves with problems that have nothing to do with the nothing they themselves do.
"True, they say that all of us belong to the Castle," admits a young village woman named Olga, who sympathizes with K.'s pursuit and who describes how the Castle's insouciance destroyed her own family. "But where in all this do you see the influence of the Castle?" K. responds. "It doesn't seem to have intervened yet. What you have told me up to now is nothing more than the mindless timidity of the people." Not fully comprehending his own revelation, K. identifies that the problem lies not in the Castle; instead it lies without.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars .,
Probably not the most recommendable place to start for someone unfamiliar with Kafka, but if you've read other works by Kafka and have enjoyed them, you'll need to get around to this one eventually. Personally, I think it's one of the best books I've ever read. It is true that nothing much really happens, in the typical sense, and that the book is distinctly unfinished and probably flawed on a number of levels. But in some senses this only enhances the mysterious nature of the book. It is utterly surreal and ultimately pointless as a conventional narrative, but rather resembles an epic, highly detailed, inherently meaningful, yet hopelessly ambiguous dream. I find this mix and this atmosphere extremely appealing, and I have never seen it in a purer, more innocently perfect form than here. A book full of magic.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars And you thought the DMV was bad,
"The Castle," though still an unfinished novel at his death, is Kafka's lengthiest and most well-developed novel. The crux of the storyline is a land surveyor, only referred to as "K.", and his gloriously futile efforts to gain knowledge of what exactly he is to be doing in the village. For, the village and everyone in it belongs to the Castle, an aged and unimpressive conglomeration of buildings and fortifications on a hill overlooking the village below. Yet, the Castle is not only a place, but a "state of mind", a state where incessant but enigmatic regulations and procedures saddle the village and its inhabitants with an insurmountable mountain of files, papers, and utter absurdity. For nothing can be accomplished without navigating the tangled and unfathomable labyrinth of rules and regulations of the Castle. Yet, its officials are inaccessible. Indeed, even the shortest contact with the lowliest of officials is almost unheard of, and even if this can be accomplished, nothing ever comes out of it.
The Castle enforces its power and influence over all of the village's inhabitants. Even a threat of action against a citizen is enough to persuade the entire community to ostracize its own. One can waste years of an otherwise productive life to try to prove false an allegation, yet because there was no formal report or deposition taken, there can be no action taken to rectify the situation. Yet, because the situation cannot be rectified, the victim remains in an incessant state of limbo, while the very essence of life is slowly drained out. Indeed, the indefatigable torment of the Castle and its regulations render an entire population impotent and at the mercy of its myriad of officials.
Anyone who has read "The Trial," may find some common themes. In fact, "The Castle" is in many ways similar to "The Trial." Both novels have the same recurring circular logic and logical fallacies that comprise their legal systems. Both engage in influence peddling with little effect. Both have the same protagonist - "K" - who unexpectedly enters a parallel world of which he knows nothing and can gain little knowledge. However, "The Castle" is more developed and less ominous and foreboding than "The Trial." Of course, there is no conclusion or climax in "The Castle", as "K." is left in perpetual limbo. Indeed, in the new Shocken translation, the book ends in mid-sentence, as if the pen had floated off the paper and disappeared.
This novel isn't for everyone. For first-time Kafka readers, I would recommend "The Trial" over "The Castle," as it is more poignant and definitive in its conclusion. Perhaps that this book is left unfinished will disturb some readers. Honestly, though, it is fitting that this novel ends in mid-sentence, as it seems as if there will never be a conclusion to "K's" plight. Also, this novel lacks punctuation and most sentences are rambling on without periods and paragraphs, so reading it can become tedious at times.
However, for Kafka fans, this book will be a must-read, as there are few ...
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A waking nightmare,
This is perhaps one of the hardest books I've read. The sentences stretch for lines, and the paragraphs take entire chapters. but don't let these deterr you: this style only helps to create this existential nightmare, makes it more dream-like. Absurdity abounds this book: K.'s struggle to get to talk to Klamm is rebuked countless times, making him start over again. Pepi's dream to have Frieda's position is merely taken away by Fireda, thus making her start over. And Frieda's plans of are merely thrown away. Martin Buber's philosophy is, perhaps, a greater theme in this book. If you are not familiar with I AND THOU, I recomend reading it, because his philosophy gives the greatest explanation as to why nothing was accomplished. And being familiar with Kierkegaard greatly helps to lead tyo some sort of an understanding behind this enigmatic work. I loved this book and hated alll at once. I may not call it Kafka's masterpeice, though, because I still have to read THE TRIAL. THE CASTLE is hard to get through, but it is worth the effort.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Readable at last!,
Translation means everything! Over the years I've read much of Kafka especially during adolescence and into my early twenties when his worldview spoke most directly to my own attempts to understand how the world really worked. Of all his books only The Castle totally defeated me. I must have begun it five times in my life, only to abandon it partway through. Now I know why. It wasn't Kafka. It was the translation.
Mark Harmon's translation brought Kafka close to my ear and heart, the way he used to when I was younger. I could see the darkness of his interiors, feel the cold of his snow covered wind blown exteriors, smell the stale beer of the taproom, taste the small meals and strong coffee served, sense the animal attractions of his characters. Most of all I could really hear the voices of his people as they simultaneously revealed and concealed themselves through their stories.
Sometimes I laughed out loud. Sometimes my hair stood on end at the dark realities which this book unveils. The Barnabas family stories in particular chilled me. Especially in this time of fear and shunning by powerful majorities of the 'others'in our societies and in the exhaustion of the 'cleansings' and genocides of the last century, the fall of that family made me feel like I was inside a hateful part of our past, present and future.
I've now lived part of my life within bureaucratic organizations, even as an 'official' and I understand as I couldn't as a youth how absolutely Kafka has gotten to the deepest truths about how our power structures work. What it's like to be enmeshed as part of them, and-or to be at their mercy. It is hard to find free space in the world.
I used to think Kafka was a genius and an artist of the highest rank. Now, reading him in an excellent translation I understand that he was also a prophet.
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The Castle by Franz Kafka (Hardcover - 1969)
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