Skip to main content

A Book Club Divided: How Funny Is Franz Kafka?

Yesterday evening my book club discussed Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis, in which a man wakes up one morning and finds he has turned into some kind of vermin. Opinions on the 50 page story were sharply divided. My Austrian friend and I talked about how we cracked up reading; our American friends shared their feelings of depression and disgust.

Is it a coincidence that the difference in perception runs along lines of nationality or is it cultural? Put differently: do you have to be Austrian/Central European to feel comfortable with Kafka's humor?


Reese said…
Hi Christina,

Interesting question, and something I was thinking about recently.

I made the same observation with my own fictional work after being read by American and UK readers. I found the general American reader takes a literal approach to each story, but the general UK reader takes a skeptical approach. Since I tend to write satires and farces, I found a more understanding and appreciative audience in the UK, where I now submit all of my work.


Thanks, Mark.

I think you are right on with the American reader's literal approach. Kafka's humor is not in your face, but more between the lines. In Metamorphosis we are expected to look beyond the facade of the apparently well functioning family, to see it as a farce.

Where can we read your fiction?
debi said…
Ok, here's a comment from an American voice (though I do think maybe I'm not the norm).

I read the first paragraph of "Metamorphosis" sitting in the car on a road trip from Dallas to Austin. I got the giggles picturing bed-quilt ready to slide off and legs flailing about. A fun read with undercurrents of the transformation of a lazy, feel-sorry-for-themselves family, dependent on their do-good son to actually being able to care for themselves at the cost of the son's life. But all told with the aura of the absurd.

My boyfriend asked what I was giggling at. When I told him, he said when he had read it, it had a repugnant aura to him. My son's girlfriend agreed. They both looked at me like I might have loosened a screw somewhere.

Oh well, I've never been told that I was normal. I actually like most crawly bugs especially beetles. Dung-beetles of the rolling persuasion are fun to watch. Years ago when my kids were little, we would play with the fun critters, watching them push their wares.

Reese said…
Hi Christina,

I submit my stories to located in Dundee, Scotland. It's a fun site, since they produce the best short stories into audio format, so you can download them to your iPod.

I'm happy you brought up an important piece like "Metamorphosis". Unfortunately, the novella and short story form seem to be disappearing (outside of writing classes and groups). It's becoming a world of tweets...

Lorraine Seal said…
Hi Christina,

I agree there's a cultural difference in one's appreciate of humour and sensibilities. Obviously I don't get the subtleties of Austrian humour because I don't speak enough German. But I do see the differences between the American and Irish perception of humour.

Whether you are the norm or not - I am glad you had fun reading Kafka. (Writing this makes me wonder: can there be a norm in a country of 310 million?)

I love short stories. Alice Munro's books got me addicted to the form. Andre Dubus and Kazuo Ishiguro are two other favorites of mine. I took a peek at but haven't taken the time to create a login yet. Thanks for sharing the page.

Humor is always the last thing I get when I learn a foreign language. It took me two years to learn Czech to the point where I was comfortable communicating but even then I felt that lightyears separated me from understanding the humorous. I would love to hear more about the differences between the Irish and the American humor.

Popular posts from this blog

Visions of Editors: How Good Stories Go to Waste

Recently I stumbled upon Visions of Mary, a war story by Joseph Richardson. The book begins in a present day emergency room in Tennessee: A physician, a good guy who takes his work seriously, fights to establish the identity of a man who was found wandering about in a snow storm. The M.D.'s questions bring up memories of World War II in the disoriented patient. Thanks to the lost man's recollections we eventually learn that he is Colonel John Stone, an American war hero. The colonel tells the physician how he enlisted and became a pilot, how he married his sweetheart, Mary, and how he almost died when the Japanese shot down his plane, the "China Doll," in the last months of the war. After the attack, Stone and his men found themselves on a raft in the middle of a shark infested nowhere called the Pacific. Without food, water and radio connection their death seemed imminent. The men's fight for survival is where the book turns exciting: plunged into this crisis,

Lyman, Whitford, Reality Check: A Career in the West Wing?

On a chilly Sunday night in February two young girls in jeans and light blouses were standing in front of the artists' entrance of one of two local art theaters in Pasadena, California. The pathway beyond the barrier, an iron gate, was barely lit. It stayed empty for a long time while the girls, shifting weight from one foot to the other, chatted and giggled. After a while a figure emerged from the shadows. The girls fell silent but it was the wrong actor. When the right man, Bradley Whitford, finally appeared he was wearing a bicycle helmet pushed way up on his forehead. Whitford is best known for playing Josh Lyman in the TV series  The West Wing   but on that night he had performed in the Pasadena Playhouse's production of Yasmina Reza’s   Art.  The girls stopped the actor, told him about their social studies class and how the teacher would have them watch The West Wing.  Whitford smiled, asked, "Which school is it?" and autographed the two print-outs the girls

Solid Rock, Human Transience (The Huntington 2)

Organic blend: Chinese garden at the Huntington The Chinese garden at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino (L.A. county) is a magical place. It blends the man-made and the natural, architecture with trees, straight lines and curves, all in an organic way. Last week, as I was wandering the cobbled paths of the garden I decided to take a closer look at some of the rocks. I got to my knees, admired the shades of white and grey, the undertones of purple, green, and red; I let my hand glide over the limestone's spurs, cracks, and sharp edges, felt the coolness of the rock against my skin, its enduring solidity against my human transience - and decided to look up some facts. Spurs and cracks: 50 Chinese stone workers flew in to carve the stone Transplants in L.A.: 850 tons of rock The limestone rocks in the Huntington's Chinese garden are transplants. They were imported from Lake Tai in the Yangtze Delta in China. Acc