From 1911 to 1914 Kafka worked on a novel that he never finished. The fragment was published 1927 posthumously by his close friend Max Brod, who first entitled the novel Amerika, later it was published as The Man Who Dissapeared.
The novel is about a darling and simultaneously weird boy Karl Rossmann, who becomes younger throughout the story.
After Karl conceives a child with a maid, his parents send him off to America on a ship. The then seventeen years old Karl deeply feels his sending abroad as abandonment and punishment. Already on the first page of the story this circumstance becomes obvious by the fact, that Karl sees the Statue of Liberty holding a sword instead of the freedom promising torch, when he watches her through the bullglass. Still on the boat Karl will meet is uncle, but he will later also abandone him, when Karl -once- does not obey his uncles rules. The theme of very hard punishment for very little offense will continue throughout the book.
Karl constantly makes mistakes, that always have extensive consequences. What kind of transports an akward feeling for the reader, in the manner of Karls faults beeing always so little or to be even questioned at all.
Those mistakes put Karl repeatedly back on the road. Throughout the story Karl becomes freer every step on the way, losing completely who he was before moving to America and eventually not knowing at all who he is anymore. Along this way he is struggeling to figure out where he belongs and in which place he is right. What really sticks out, in comparison to for example Jack Kerouac’s On the Road is, that freedom is sensed as a burden and punishement instead of a blessing. When normally freedom is experienced as the ultimate prerogative, it is not for Karl Rossmann.
Kafkas idea of America in this novel is unbelieveably fascinating, because of the fact that he’s never been there. Regardless the narrative seems as he’s lived there his entire life. How he describes the american landscapes Karl is traveling through, makes them tangible in an unsual way.
Even with this book also being a classic, it hasn’t lost any of its topicality, for it challenges you to think about what freedom is to you and how you’d define it. Being young and at the verge of deciding what to do with your life, there are moments when you realise that even though freedom is the most precious privelege, it can also be frightened.
I am forever fettered to myself, that’s what I am, that’s what I must try to live with. – Franz Kafka “Letters to Felice”