In Amerika by Franz Kafka, the character Karl Rossman is shipped away to America by his parents following a scandal with a servant girl. From hotel employee to bum to servant, young Karl experiences a panoply of adventures and emotions as he tries to find his way through life. Superficially, it’s a straightforward tale, a Huckleberry Finn-esque Bildungsroman. Since Kafka rarely wrote superficial tales, however, it is possible that Karl’s adventures mean something else–for Karl and for Kafka.
Interestingly, the title “Amerika” comes to us from Max Brod, who changed Kafka’s original title. Kafka’s title Der Verschollene, however, translates to “The Missing Person” or “The Man Who Disappeared.” Why would he give the novel a title that expresses the point of view of Karl’s family while the narration itself follows Karl, giving only passing mention to his family? (more…)