'...behind them all was New York, looking at Karl with the hundred thousand windows of its skyscrapers' Entering New York harbour, the young immigrant Karl Rossmann sees the Statue of Liberty, 'her arm with the sword stretched upward'. This forbidding introduction sets the tone for Kafka's narrative about an innocent European astray in an ultra-modern America that is both a fantasy and an object of social satire. Expelled by his family after seduction by a maidservant, Karl finds in America a series of surrogate families, but he continues to get into undeserved trouble and is forced to move on once again. Along the way Karl encounters extremes of wealth and poverty, experiences the cruelty of the American work ethic, and has glimpses of the criminal underworld, without losing the basic goodness and resourcefulness that enable him to survive the hazards of the New World. Full of incident, and blackly humorous, Kafka's first novel portrays American civilization with horrified fascination. This edition retains Kafka's distinctive style in a sensitive and natural new translation, together with a penetrating introduction and notes.
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Ritchie Robertson is the author of the Very Short Introduction to Kafka. For Oxford World's Classics he has translated Hoffmann's The Golden Pot and Other Stories and introduced and annotated editions of Kafka, Freud, and Schnitzler. He is the editor of The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Mann.