Well, I suppose this was almost a natural match. We have the bizarre, paranoid vision of Franz Kafka meeting the perverted and twisted world of R Crumb. A match between these artists is a nice pair.

In this book, Crumb provides illustrations for text written by David Zane Mairowitz. I was intrigued when I saw this book in the window of a Center City Bookstore. I knew it was a book I needed to add to my library. This book is a fine collaboration. It showcases some sensitive analysis of Kafka from Mairowitz as well as some fine artwork from Crumb.

It includes biographical text as well as some literary interpretation. DZM explores the relationship between Kafka's Jewish heritage and the alienation he felt toward society. The book covers such legends and urban myths as Golem and ritual murder. Kafka was alienated also by being a German speaker at a time when Czech nationalism was on the rise. Mairowitz also notes the horrible irony that most Prague Jews supported the Germans in World War I. This was partly due to the issue of language. This is book is good in that it does document the influence that Kafka's heritage had on his writing and his life even though he was not overtly religious.

There is also exploration of Kafka's sexual ambivalence and family problems and his intense feelings of inadequacy. Crumb was dominated by his father which is a recurring theme throughout the book. He also had very distorted relationships. Most of his relationships with women were predominantly done through letters. This is something that also comes through in the writing. There is always tension under the surface but nothing comes to pass.

Kafka is a book that will please most Crumb fans. Crumb, as the back cover notes point out, was also “not a stranger to self loathing and alienation.”  In many ways, Crumb's many neurotic tendencies make him a perfect artist to illustrate Kafka. I would point out for those that like Crumb's more scatological work that very little sexual content is present in this book. We get one topless scene but no full frontal nudity. Readers are advised to consider the subject on that matter.

One of the really pleasing elements of the book is that they do abbreviated illustrated versions and fragments from Kafka's writing. I'm sure Crumb fans will appreciate the short take on The Metamorphosis. Crumb always had an ability to do good insects and critters throughout his career. The only flaw as noted in the text was that Kafka originally didn't want any picture of the insect used on the original publication. He wanted that left to the reader's imagination. Mairowitz provides text that capsize the story and then explores how the story relates to Kafka's own life.

The connections between Kafka's life and his stories is not likely a new revelation to anyone who has read Kafka seriously over the years but it is interesting the way Mairowitz shows how different characters in stories relate to Kafka's relationship with his father. The Judgment really showcases that dynamic. Crumb's illustrations also work well with Kafka characters. He has a sense of exaggeration that works well.

The takes on the novels are also interesting. They discuss some of the dilemmas in The Trial and The Castle. The take on Amerika stretches a little to include some swipes at modern American society. There is the obvious conclusion that Kafka's main characters are meant to be variations of himself. This was a reflection of his own guilty conscience and feelings of smallness.

This is a book that I think will please fans of Kafka. I was surprised at the sensitivity displayed by Crumb in the illustrations throughout this book. He shows that he is capable of more than just dirty pictures. He seems to empathize with both Kafka and with the characters created by Kafka. He gets good facial expressions to showcase shock, horror and shame. This would be a good book for someone that didn't want to deal with the sexual perversity in most of Crumb's works.

I think this would also serve well as a good introduction to Kafka's work. The text by Mairowitz is very accessible and the artwork is superb. They cover numerous stories by Kafka. Other classic stories covered in the book include In The Penal Colony, The Burrow and The Hunger Artist. The plots of the stories are outlined well.

This book is one that should be read by fans of both Kafka and Crumb. It does a good job of providing basic information on both Kafka the man and Kafka the writer. It also reveals a side of Crumb not often seen in his works. This is highly recommended for literary types who also like illustrated text.          


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