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Amerika -- The Missing Person: A New Translation, Based on the Restored Textby Franz Kafka
"It's always tricky when an author's name becomes an adjective. Orwellian, Machiavellian, Faulknerian — these designations make it hard to see a writer on his or her own terms. This is perhaps most true of Franz Kafka, whose sobriquet, Kafkaesque, has become a catchall for the weird and inexplicable. Yet 84 years after his death of tuberculosis at age 40, Kafka continues to defy such simplifications, to force us to consider him anew. That's the effect of Mark Harman's new translation of his first novel, Amerika, restored to its original title, The Missing Person." David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times (read the entire Los Angeles Times review)
"[Amerika] chronicles the misadventures of the exiled German teenager Karl Rossmann, cast off across the Atlantic by his parents after a housemaid who seduced him becomes pregnant and bears his child. It is by turns a picaresque narrative, an archetypal immigrant's tale, an epic road story, a bleak vision of city life and a sneering take on the 'land of plenty.' But though it tracks Karl as he stumbles from job to job, town to town, Amerika is not a coming-of-age novel; if anything, it is a parody of the European Bildungsroman..." Alexander Provan, The Nation (read the entire Nation review)
Synopses & Reviews
Franz Kafka's diaries and letters suggest that his fascination with America grew out of a desire to break away from his native Prague, even if only in his imagination. Kafka died before he could finish what he like to call his American novel: but he clearly entitled it Der Verschollene (The Missing Person) in a letter to his fiancee, Felice Bauer, in 1912. Kafka began writing the novel that fall and wrote until the last completed chapter in 1914, but in wasn't until 1927, three years after his death, that Amerika — the title that Kafka's friend and literary executor Max Brod gave his edited version of the unfinished manuscript — was published in Germany by Kurt Wolff Verlag. An English translation by Willa and Edwin Muir was published in Great Britain in 1932 and in the United States in 1946.
Over the last thirty years, an international team of Kafka scholars has been working on German-language critical editions of all of Kafka's writings, going back to the original manuscripts and notes, correcting transcription errors, and removing Brod's editorial and stylistic interventions to create texts that are as close as possible to the way the author left them.
With the same expert balance of precision and nuance that marked his award-winning translation of The Castle, Mark Harman now restores the humor ad particularity of language in his translation of the critical edition of Der Verschollene. Here is the story of young Karl Rossman, who, following an incident involving a housemaid, is banished by his parents to America. With unquenchable optimism and in the company of two comic-sinister companions, he throws himself into misadventure, eventually heading towards Oklahoma, where a career in the theater beckons. Though we can never know how Kafka planned to end the novel, Harman's superb translation allows us to appreciate, as closely as possible, what Kafka did commit to the page.
Harman offers a brilliant new translation of the great writer's least Kafkaesque novel, based on a German-language text that was produced by a team of international scholars, and that is more faithful to Kafka's original manuscript than any translation to date.
About the Author
Franz Kafka was born in Prague in 1883 and died of tuberculosis in a sanatorium near Vienna in 1924. He worked most of his adult life at the Worker Accident Insurance Company for the Kingdom of Bohemia in Prague. Only a few of his writings were published during his lifetime; most appeared posthumously.
Mark Harman, a native of Dublin who has written extensively about modern German and Irish literature, is a professor of German and English at Elizabeth College in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania. His translation of The Castle received the Modern Language Association's first Lois Roth Award in 1998.
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