This edition offers a sample of Kafka's best short stories with the original German and English translation on facing pages. It is a wonderful sort of "training wheels" for those who are ready to tackle German literature in the original.
The stories themselves are highly challenging. Kafka is regarded as a profit of modern alienation, but that doesn't capture the complexity of his thought. His masterpiece, The Metamorphosis, is here. In it Gregor Samsa awakes one morning to find he has turned into a giant bug. With that simple, but startling device, Kafka has a vehicle for exploring the inner dynamic of a family, and the mix of selfishness and altruism which informs our relationships with one another. On the surface, it would seem that Kafka is affirming the increasingly common notion that all altruism is really disguised selfishness - yet the story's bleakness suggests that Kafka himself knows that the vision is incomplete. This is the truth, he says. But is it the whole truth?
In another great story, In the Penalty Colony, Kafka presents us with a society that was once ordered around a great torturing device. The society is in the process of moving away from the torture device, and that would seem to be a good thing. But Kafka is more challenging than that. Does a vision of the world which imagines no role for suffering really speak to our deepest selves? We are repulsed by the old order, but the new order seems to be missing something.
So in one neat package, you can learn some German and struggle with a challenging vision of the world. That's a bargain, in my book!