I first read Kafka when I was 19. My friend had bought a copy of The Castle on the recommendation from someone or another and that it “ was supposed to be quite good”. He had not read it at the time and had no intention of doing so in the immediate future, so I borrowed it.
It then proceeded to sit on my shelf for several weeks whilst I read a couple of other things. Finally, I sat down to read it. What a revelation!
Oh that dense, impenetrable world!
I had never come across anything of this sort before and it just instantly clicked. It seemed like the entire world had been painted on the page, like someone had finally managed to express what I was feeling.
I would go on to read his two other novels, Amerika and The Trial, as well as some of his short stories and probably his most famous work, Metamorphosis. And every time I would get the same feeling. His ability to dissect the human condition just continued to astound me. As it does to this very day.
Following on from his work, I found out about the Existentialists, found Dostoevsky and Nietzsche, Sartre and Camus. Whilst I myself would not necessarily describe myself as one, existentialism certainly plays a key part in my overriding philosophy and has had a profound impact on my (no so profound) way of thinking.
A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to go to Prague for a few days and got an opportunity to go to the Kafka Museum, alone. Walking through the darkened, atmospheric rooms really gave a sense of foreboding and is something I would highly recommend, for the experience as much as the insight it gives into his life and into his work. Walking through the streets of Prague for the rest of the day just conjured up romantic, of haunting images of what life must have been like to exist within his circles at the beginning of the 20th century.
As we move further and further into the 21st century, into industrialisation and the isolation of the individual, the work of Kafka has never felt more relevant. It truly is essential reading. I encourage you all to take a look.