The Trial

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This disturbing and vastly influential novel has been interpreted on many levels of structure and symbol; but most commentators agree that the book explores the themes of guilt, anxiety, and moral impotency in the face of some ambiguous force. Joseph K. is an employee in a bank, a man without particular qualities or abilities. He could be anyone, and in some ways he is everyone. His inconsequence makes doubly strange his arrest by the officer of the court in the large city where K. lives. He tries in vain to ...
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Overview

This disturbing and vastly influential novel has been interpreted on many levels of structure and symbol; but most commentators agree that the book explores the themes of guilt, anxiety, and moral impotency in the face of some ambiguous force. Joseph K. is an employee in a bank, a man without particular qualities or abilities. He could be anyone, and in some ways he is everyone. His inconsequence makes doubly strange his arrest by the officer of the court in the large city where K. lives. He tries in vain to discover how he has aroused the suspicion of the court. His honesty is conventional; his sins, with Elsa the waitress, are conventional; and he has no striking or dangerous ambitions. He can only ask questions, and receives no answers that clarify the strange world of courts and court functionaries in which he is compelled to wander. The plight of Joseph K., consumed by guilt and condemned for a crime he does not understand by a court with which he cannot communicate, is a profound and disturbing image of man in the modern world. There are no formal charges, no procedures, and little information to guide the defendant. One of the most unsettling aspects of the novel is the continual juxtaposition of alternative hypotheses, multiple explanations, different interpretations of cause and effect, and the uncertainty it breeds. The whole rational structure of the world is undermined.

A respectable banker gets arrested and spends his life fighting a charge he can not get information about.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
This classic novel by Kafka tells the terrifying tale of Joseph K., a respectable banker who is suddenly arrested and must defend his innocence against a charge about which he can get no information. The Trial stands as one of the great novels of modern times, as it rings with a chilling truth about modern bureaucracy and the mad agendas of 20th century totalitarian regimes.
Louis Kronenberger
The Trial is not for everybody, and its peculiar air of excitement will seem flat enough to those who habitually feed on 'exciting' books. It belongs not with the many novels that horrify, but with the many fewer which terrify.
Books of the Century; New York Times review, October 1937
Library Journal
An overly pretentious tale with an extensive cast of characters that gathers at the funeral of Hollywood's least favorite producer, West of Paradise suffers from the lack of a centrally solid idea or developed player to hold it together. Neophyte writer Kate Donnelly, who crashes the funeral, is not strong or interesting enough nor blessed with the necessary critical eye to make the novel and its cast work. Davis dares to invoke the name of F. Scott Fitzgerald as Kate's muse, and the only mildly intriguing idea here may be the pretense that she is his long-lost relative. The stereotypes are tired, and the limited plot too predictable. Susan O'Malley's reading is, fortunately, on the brisk side. Not recommended.--Joyce Kessel, Villa Maria Coll., Buffalo, NY Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The Trial (1924), whose cryptic portrayal of a bank clerk detained and interrogated for an undisclosed offense has become perhaps the dominant image of modernist 'absurdity' — holds up well in a version characterized by long, crowded paragraphs and virtually incantatory accusatory repetitions that confer equal emphasis on the novel's despairing comedy and aura of unspecific menace. Admirers of Kafka's fiction will not want to miss it.
From the Publisher
“‘[I]t seemed as though the shame was to outlive him.’ With these words The Trial ends. Kafka’s shame then is no more personal than the life and thought which govern it and which he describes thus: ‘He does not live for the sake of his own life, he does not think for the sake of his own thought. He feels as though he were living and thinking under the constraint of a family . . . Because of this unknown family . . . he cannot be released.’”
—Walter Benjamin
 
“Breon Mitchell’s translation is an accomplishment of the highest order that will honor Kafka far into the twenty-first century.”
—Walter Abish, author of How German Is It
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780394704845
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/1/1969

Meet the Author

Franz Kafka

Mike Mitchell taught at the universities of Reading and Stirling before becoming a full-time translator.
Ritchie Robertson is Fellow and Tutor in German at St. John's College, Oxford.

Biography

Franz Kafka was born in 1883 to a well-to-do middle-class Jewish family. His father, the self-made proprietor of a wholesale haberdashery business, was a domineering man whose approbation Franz continually struggled to win. The younger Kafka's feelings of inadequacy and guilt form the background of much of his work and are made explicit in his "Letter to His Father" (excerpted in this volume), which was written in 1919 but never sent.

Kafka was educated in the German language schools of Prague and at the city's German University, where in 1908 he took a law degree. Literature, however, remained his sole passion. At this time he became part of a literary circle that included Franz Werfel, Martin Buber, and Kafka's close friend Max Brod. Encouraged by Brod, Kafka published the prose collection Observations in 1913. Two years later his story "The Stoker" won the Fontaine prize. In 1916 he began work on The Trial and between this time and 1923 produced three incomplete novels as well as numerous sketches and stories. In his lifetime some of his short works did appear: The Judgment (1916), The Metamorphosis (1916), The Penal Colony (1919), and The Country Doctor (1919).

Before his death of tuberculosis in 1924, Kafka had charged Max Brod with the execution of his estate, ordering Brod to burn the manuscripts. With the somewhat circular justification that Kafka must have known his friend could not obey such an order, Brod decided to publish Kafka's writings. To this act of "betrayal" the world owes the preservation of some of the most unforgettable and influential literary works of our century.

Biography courtesy of BN.com

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    1. Date of Birth:
      July 3, 1883
    2. Place of Birth:
      Prague, Austria-Hungary
    1. Date of Death:
      June 3, 1924
    2. Place of Death:
      Vienna, Austria
    1. Education:
      German elementary and secondary schools. Graduated from German Charles-Ferdinand University of Prague.

Table of Contents

Introduction vii
Chapter 11
The Arrest
Conversation with Frau Grubach
Then Fraulein Burstner
Chapter 231
First Interrogation
Chapter 349
In the Empty Courtroom
The Student
The Offices
Chapter 474
Fraulein Burstner's Friend
Chapter 583
The Whipper
Chapter 691
K.'s Uncle
Leni
Chapter 7113
Lawyer
Manufacturer
Painter
Chapter 8166
Block, the Tradesman
Dismissal of the Lawyer
Chapter 9197
In the Cathedral
Chapter 10223
The End
Appendix I The Unfinished Chapters
On the Way to Elsa 233
Journey to His Mother 235
Prosecuting Counsel 239
The House 245
Conflict with the Assistant Manager 250
A Fragment 256
Appendix II The Passages Delected by the Author 257
Appendix III Postscripts
To the First Edition (1925) 264
To the Second Edition (1935) 272
To the Third Edition (1946) 274
Appendix IV Excerpts from Kafka's Diaries 275
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Introduction

This short novel has passed into far more than classical literary status...In more than 100 languages, the epithet 'kafkaesque' attaches to the central images, to the constants of inhumanity and absurdity in our times...In this diffusion of the kafkaesque into so many recesses of our private and public existence, The Trial plays a commanding role.
— From the Introduction
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 53 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(28)

4 Star

(10)

3 Star

(6)

2 Star

(6)

1 Star

(3)

Your Rating:

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 57 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Let us start with the end.

    What is the story? K. is "arrested", "sentenced" and put to "death". I'm not spoiling anything because this novel is not really a story but a dreamlike description of an ordeal. What happens in the end is more or less irrelevant except for one thing. The last scene of the novel where K. is stabbed dead by two members of the "law enforcement", contains a very important clue to understand the novel. K.'s last words are 'Like a dog!' That's right, like a dog and not like a human being. At the very last moment K. finally understands that during his whole life he was only interested in what he could GET from other people and he never was concerned with what he could GIVE to other people. He lived like an animal so to speak, like a dog.

    And that's the reason why he's "arrested". Let's not forget that the word "arrest" also means that someone has ceased to grow up and to develop his character. In a certain way K. is still a child. This second meaning of the word arrest is the reason why no one can tell him why he's arrested, every time that K. asks that question. K. himself is the only person who can answer that question: I'm too selfish and I have to change my ways. There is a chapter that illustrates what I mean.

    When K. and his uncle arrive at the house of K.'s lawyer, the door is opened by the lovely maid Leni. K. is obviously very keen on her. There is also a senior clerk of the Court. He has taken a special interest in the trial of K.. They all meet in the bedroom of the lawyer who has a weak heart and has to stay in bed. When the important discussion is about to begin, a noise is heard from the kitchen. K. says that he will go to the kitchen to see what's wrong. With a sigh of relief he closes the door behind him. He sees pretty Leni and forgets all about the important meeting. K. likes to flirt with Leni. At a given moment she says:"All you have to do is to confess that you are guilty". With feminine insight she knows what is wrong with K.. He's guilty of childish egoism. Meanwhile the three others are still waiting in the bedroom of the lawyer.

    Another important moment in the novel is when a priest hails K. in the church where he was supposed to meet someone. The priest is a symbol for K's conscience. At a certain moment during their conversation K. asks: "Are you angry with me?" and the priest answers: "I'm not angry with you, but can't you see what lies ahead of you?" At this point K. is very close to his redemption, his problems could be solved at this very moment, if only he had the nerve or the courage to continue this conversation. But no, he says "it's time for me to go back to my work. I'm already late.
    Now K. is inexorably doomed.

    5 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2004

    Almost Prefect

    I am a complete Kafka freak. I have read almost every one of his novels, short stories and diaries in many of the available translations and the original language. I must say, that 'The Trial' is the most perfect example of Kafkaesque literature, aside from 'The Metamorphosis'. It can also be noted that it is one of the less complex novels by Kafka.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2000

    A Modern Classic

    Contrary to the other customers who wrote a review on The Trial, I enjoyed the novel thoroughly. I found many parallels to Camus's The Stranger and was shaken by its prophecies towards the downfall of Marxism and Communism. I admit it is easy to get lost in Kafka's convuluted style, but one most look deeper into this novel and extract an important theme. This theme is existensialism and is first explored in this novel. Finally, the book is a comment on our judiciary and governmental bureaucracies that exist today.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2000

    It was interesting, to a point

    I checked this book out for my AP English class, and I was going crazy trying to figure it out. Now it could be different from an adult perspective, but I thought that it was confusing. It is overwritten. Toward the end I was reading every-other page and getting more out of it then reading everyone. I would not recomend this book to a teeneger or someone who would like to do a book report on it.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2004

    a classic

    Kafka¿s unfinished novel, blended with surrealism and a disturbing apathetic world, makes us realize that we ourselves, all our lives, are incomplete, absurdly alive in a world that haunts us with death, anxiety and the hostility of society at every turn...making us realize that our plight is hopeless so long as we cherish the cherries of the common. This is a book for all who know the worst of life and man, who know what it means to be unique, and above all, alone in a world that simply does not care.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2005

    Great as a book, bad as a fossil fuel.

    If you want a novel that will qualify you as (a) an anthropological messiah, or (b) a stark-raving sociopath without requiring you to get your hands dirty, then The Trial is probably what you¿re looking for. It is an explorative, extravagant, and explosive study of the benefits given to the upper class, the uselessness of legal formalities, and the rising apathy of high society for its working class. In this dark, biting satire of class, government, and pride, Franz Kafka tells his readers what happens when the hierarchal nature of society is suddenly reversed. It is a sometimes turbulent, sometimes sobering, always twisted work of literary art which proves that Kafka did not use up all of his talent when writing his most renowned work, Metamorphosis. The story begins when Joseph K., a well-respected bank official, wakes up to find out, from two wardens and an inspector that he is under arrest, but is not allowed to know what the charges are, or if the arrest actually means that any charges are being brought against him. This is only the beginning of Joseph¿s, generally referred to as ¿K.¿, collision with a bizarre, lurid array of characters, and unfamiliar court system that they all seem to have connections with. The court is run, it seems, entirely by a self-righteous bunch of lazy, and underpaid, lower-classmen, but can sometimes give the reader conflicting feelings with brief moments of valiance and nobility. However, K.¿s character is equally inconstant, as we see him to be a kind, compassionate martyr and victim, and then an overly-proud womanizer, sometimes as equally self-righteous as the court. This unique tactic of description forms a solid idea in the readers mind of who is right, who is wrong, and who doesn¿t matter, then crushes it, builds it again, and repeats the process over again, making a captivating and intelligent read. This read, though boring at times, proves to be worthwhile for any fan of Kafka¿s work, or the work of any other social commentators of the literary world. It is liken, in its best times, to the socio-political satire of Oscar Wilde¿s ¿The Picture of Dorian Gray,¿ but with a more possible application to American society. Though published several decades ago, The Trial has as much wisdom to contribute as ever and is easy for the layman to enjoy, as it contains a purposefully inaccurate description of the legal system, and requires only the most basic understanding of law, and little to no knowledge of German culture. All in all, it is frustrating, humorous, disturbing, and brilliant. I recommend The Trial highly for everybody, whether they are a long-time societal observer, somebody looking to become more aware of the world they live in, or a person simply looking for a good read. So, if you can, I strongly suggest that you pick up a copy of your own as soon as possible.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2014

    Thirty below zero...

    Journey up a snowy mountain as you try to save a mine full of workers trapped by an avalance. But who kniws what lies in these mountains...

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2013

    Buy a better version - clarification

    Comment regarding poor quality refers to a copy published by LULU.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2013

    Buy a better version

    This version has typos and missing words. There is no excuse for such poor proofreading. This is a great book but buy a copy from a different publisher.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 23, 2013

    Difficult to get into the story.

    I just could not get into this book. The story jumps up and down, very difficult to get a flow. I did not finish.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2013

    Dont read this book if you are not good at reading into the meaning of words.

    The insight that was put into this book is huge, but in my opinion, EXTREMELY hard to find and interperet properly. Mostly, the book seemed to have pointless sidestories that confuse the story about the "arrest". So i dont recommend to people that just want an interesting story, but to people that want to analyze a story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2013

    J

    Z

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  • Posted August 16, 2011

    Many typos

    As always, Gone With the Wind remains a delightful classic. However, the numerous typos in this edition detract from the experience.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 1, 2011

    Best of the Best!

    Not my favorite read, but its entertaining.

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  • Posted March 19, 2011

    Oh Boy!!! Don't bother

    Only 233 pages of boredom, you never find out what K. is accused off, this is the only reason I finished it. Blah, Blah, Blah. I don't get the attraction to Kafka's work.

    Sorry I hated it.

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 15, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    a nightmare!

    if you really, really want to be scared then i strongly recommend this book. i had never read any other kafta besides metamorphosis so i decided to try this one & OMG, it is well worth reading. i won't try to go into a lot of details because how could i explain kafka? it takes reading him to get him, i think. so read this book & be glad that our country has not become like the one depicted here!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 25, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Let's start with the end.

    What is the story? K. is "arrested", "sentenced" and put to "death". I'm not spoiling anything because this novel is not really a story but a dreamlike description of an ordeal. What happens in the end is more or less irrelevant except for one thing. The last scene of the novel where K. is stabbed dead by two members of the "law enforcement", contains a very important clue to understand the novel. K.'s last words are 'Like a dog!' That's right, like a dog and not like a human being. At the very last moment K. finally understands that during his whole life he was only interested in what he could GET from other people and he never was concerned with what he could GIVE to other people. He lived like an animal so to speak, like a dog.

    And that's the reason why he's "arrested". Let's not forget that the word "arrest" also means that someone has ceased to grow up and to develop his character. In a certain way K. is still a child. This second meaning of the word arrest is the reason why no one can tell him why he's arrested, every time that K. asks that question. K. himself is the only person who can answer that question: I'm too selfish and I have to change my ways. There is a chapter that illustrates what I mean.

    When K. and his uncle arrive at the house of K.'s lawyer, the door is opened by the lovely maid Leni. K. is obviously very keen on her. There is also a senior clerk of the Court. He has taken a special interest in the trial of K.. They all meet in the bedroom of the lawyer who has a weak heart and has to stay in bed. When the important discussion is about to begin, a noise is heard from the kitchen. K. says that he will go to the kitchen to see what's wrong. With a sigh of relief he closes the door behind him. He sees pretty Leni and forgets all about the important meeting. K. likes to flirt with Leni. At a given moment she says:"All you have to do is to confess that you are guilty". With feminine insight she knows what is wrong with K.. He's guilty of childish egoism. Meanwhile the three others are still waiting in the bedroom of the lawyer.

    Another important moment in the novel is when a priest hails K. in the church where he was supposed to meet someone. The priest is a symbol for K's conscience. At a certain moment during their conversation K. asks: "Are you angry with me?" and the priest answers: "I'm not angry with you, but can't you see what lies ahead of you?" At this point K. is very close to his redemption, his problems could be solved at this very moment, if only he had the nerve or the courage to continue this conversation. But no, he says "it's time for me to go back to my work. I'm already late.
    Now K. is inexorably doomed.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 15, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    it's not so unreal

    The main character is sort of arrested and kind of put on trial.<BR/>He does not know his charges and cannot be present at the trial. Everything seems weird but is all too real essentially.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2008

    Brilliance

    Franz Kafka wrote the novel The Trial during a time where contradicting the government was extremely frowned upon and yet, quite iconoclastically, he wrote a novel that was completely antigovernment, focusing mostly on the judicial system. This novel¿s protagonist is a man by the name of Josef K. He is arrested one evening coming home from work and is not told the circumstances of his case, nor the charges that being brought against him. Actually, his charges remain an enigma for the entire novel. This novel is meant to expose the absurdity and obscurity of the judicial system. It seems that no one can ever help Josef K. deal with the absurdity and obscurity of the judicial system. Whenever he asks a question about it he never gets a straight answer. He talks to the men who arrest him and the inspector of the police force and none of them can tell him what his case is about. He consults a lawyer and is told by the lawyer that he has many connections and that Josef doesn¿t need to worry about his case. He asks the lawyer what his case is about and the lawyer just brushes him off by saying that he has dealt with many cases like it. He is, in fact, told that in order to secure his case he should hire five lawyers to keep up with everything. He then consults a painter, who is also an official of the court, and he tells him there are three types of acquittal. The first is actual acquittal, in which the defendant¿s case files are destroyed and the case is put to rest but this only happens in the high court which the painter admits to thinking is only a myth. The second is apparent acquittal in which the court drops the case but the charges and files are kept and if any judge wants to he can bring the charges back. The third is protraction in which the defendant has to return continuously to be examined by the court. The last two forms of acquittal are ironic because they don¿t free the defendant. These are just some the many instances in which Kafka accuses the judicial system of being both absurd and obscure. This novels purpose is to expose the absurdities and obscurities that surround the judicial system. It is relevant to any era because the judicial system will always wrap itself in enigmas and concern itself with wordplay that has no purpose but to provide loopholes and to confuse. This is a brilliant novel and its message should be heeded.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2002

    classic

    This is another of Kafka's masterpieces that everyone should read at some time. It's a fascinating book, that has too much going on in it to be able to discuss in the short space here. it will make you think.

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