The Trial

The Trial

3.9 55
by Franz Kafka

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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…  See more details below


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.

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Editorial Reviews

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
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.

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Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.70(d)
1150L (what's this?)

What People are saying about this

Albert Camus
We are taken to the limits of human thought. Indeed, everything in this work is, in the true sense, essential. It states the problem of the absurd in its entirety.
W.H. Auden
Had one to name the author who comes nearest to bearing the same kind of relation to our age as Dante, Shakespeare, and Goethe bore to theirs, Kafka is the first one would think of.
Walter Abish
An accomplishment of the highest order — one that will honor Kafka, perhaps the most singular and compelling writer of our time, far into the 21st century.
— Author of How German Is It

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The Trial 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 55 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Dierckx More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you're reading this book to find out what K was accused of, then don't waste your time. The point is the burden of guilt through original sin. The issue is the inability to pinpoint this guilt and our natural tendency to deny our daily failure to meet ethical perfection. His death on a slab in a quarry is symbolism of ritual sacrifice of animals to shed blood, a practice of Judaism to absolve people of sin. The judges, lawyers, shysters, the court are all officials and processes of religion poorly attempting to absolve people of sin, but instead opressing them, pointing out behavioral guilt and shortfalls but providing no real solution. The process of religion becomes legalistic rather than spiritual and cleansing is never completed. The artist explains original sin man's failure to achieve perfection, except one or two ancient cases, perhaps Jesus, perhaps a few of the prophets (the fact that Kafka was Jewish doesn't mean he lived in a void free of Christianity, he often read the bible). The artist also explains forgiveness based on the concepts set forth in several religions. The courts that reside in almost every "attic" represent the weight and omni-presence of God, sin, and judgment.
bartlanski More than 1 year ago
After reading this, it reminded me of a very in depth nightmare I once had. Either Kafka was a very imaginative man or a very troubled one. So many of the aspects of this story cause dread because so much of it seems more than plausible (particularly in this day and age of Patriot Acts and high-tech surveillance, etc.) Whether it be a book like this or Orwell's 1984, once read, you'll have chills for a while.
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PD33 More than 1 year ago
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 More than 1 year ago
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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ClassicReaderBW More than 1 year ago
Not my favorite read, but its entertaining.
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