8. A book written in Europe/Russia: The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
List Progress: 20/25
Suddenly, through no fault of your own, everyone in your family finds you disgusting. You didn’t do anything to become disgusting, you just woke up this way and there’s no way to go back. You are not only a huge burden to them, but they can’t stand to be in the same room with you because of what you’ve become. Beneath the surreal imagery, this is what The Metamorphosis, the 1915 novella by Franz Kafka, is all about to me. It seems that academics have thrown up every interpretation in the world to explain this story, but at its core, The Metamorphosis is about what it is like to feel utterly, completely repulsive. It is not an easy novella to read, but that central concept sure hit home for me.
I have never read any Kafka before, but was familiar with the central conceit of the story: that a young man named Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning having been transformed into a giant bug. I don’t know if I was picturing some sort of adventure to turn him back, or a quest to figure out why this happened, or a journey to find a new life where he could fit as a giant bug. Whatever it was, I wasn’t picturing a slow, tragic meditation on how his loved ones saw him. Gregor’s central problem is not that he is a giant insect, but how his loved ones see that insect. They are afraid, disgusted, angered, frustrated, perversely intrigued, and annoyed by the new Gregor, but no reactions that would help Gregor to feel less alienated and alone. He has provided for his family for his entire adult life, but as soon as he is no longer useful, they lose all affection for him. His sister tries for a while, but in time not even she can find it in herself to love this bug.
The Metamorphosis reads as a very, very pessimistic view of what it is to live with a mental or physical disability, anything that would make the rest of the world look on you with disgust. As someone with my own history of mental illness, there were definitely uncomfortable moments reading this, as an absolute worst case scenario was laid out. If you can stomach that sort of journey, I would definitely recommend reading this, but it is not always going to be a fun ride. This was one of the most emotionally-stirring classics I’ve read in a long time, but I am definitely hoping to read a few fluffier things before I dive into more Kafka.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, if you are in a stable headspace at the time.
(Note: I always try to find the cover image from the edition of a book that I read, and in this case I am glad to have found a more subdued example at the local library. Kafka himself was apparently adamant that Gregor’s bug form not be depicted literally on any cover or promotional art, and I do like the quiet anxiety and grief of this cover as opposed to just slapping on a drawing of a cockroach.)