Kafka's Metamorphosis: A Classic Transformed

on Tuesday, March 25, 2014
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (Tr: Susan Bernofsky)
When it comes to the cult of Franz Kafka, I have always been a lonely island miles off the coast of the greater archipelago. Sure, I love the usual suspects - The Trial is my favourite novel of all time. In The Penal Settlement is one third of my holy trinity of short stories (Peretz's Bontshe The Silent and Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart make up the rest), though it sometimes vies for position with The Hunger Artist. But when it comes to the one story that everyone seems to fall over themselves to love, The Metamorphosis, I am, at best tepid. Conceptually it is a work of genius but I have always thought it a little stale in execution. It was with some hesitation, then, that I picked up Susan Bernofsky's new translation of this "classic" tale and, colour me off-grey indistinguishable insect colour, I am a convert. I probably need not proselytise too much; I get that I am the guy who is turning up late to the party. But holy mother of Joseph K., Bernofsky has breathed so much new life into it that it was like reading the book afresh (her choice not to name the insect is itself a great start). I am reminded of Breon Mitchell's astounding translation of The Trial which managed to inject Kafka's humour back into the text and restore its timeless tone. So too Bernofsky has made The Metamorphosis something that might well have been written last week by a funny yet tortured writer struggling to make sense of a world spun out of control. It's current and exciting, yet entirely faithful. No matter what you think of The Metamorphosis - and I'm guessing that most of you love it - I urge you to go out and read this latest translation. I dare say it will transform before your eyes!
5 Out Of 5 Crushed Carapaces


Evan said...

I've read this twice already - in the Muir and Hofmann translations respectively. I remember the outcry that greeted Hofmann's choice of "cockroach" for the insect, but not naming it at all seems a wise decision.
I might decide to revist The Metamorphosis in Bernofsky's translation. Unless I decide to learn German before then...

The Bookworm said...

Yeah I've always wanted to learn German just so I could read The Trial as Kafka wrote it. Then Breon Mitchell came along and... well... I haven't learnt German.

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