Throughout Franz Kafka’s life he struggled with feelings of alienation and isolation. These are two of the major themes that are evident throughout his novels and short stories alongside, fear, the absurd and the ideas behind Existentialism.
Unfortunately, several of the works on this list are unfinished, due to Kafka’s death at the age of forty. All of those that fall into this category were slated for burning, as his will stated. Luckily, his lifelong friend, Max Brod saved these works and published them.
The Metamorphosis is Kafka’s best-known novel and is generally considered to be his masterpiece. It was written in three weeks in a burst of inspiration and brought forth the story of Gregor Samsa. Gregor, a normal traveling salesman, wakes up one morning to discover that he has been transformed into a giant insect. This transformation goes without explanation or reason. He eventually loses touch with his humanity and dies, much to the joy of his family members.
2. The Trial
The Trial is a short novel that follows the story of Josef K., a man who is accused of an unknown crime. Throughout the book, he tries unsuccessfully to find out what he supposedly did, but it is never revealed to K. or the reader. He is prosecuted by an authority that he has no access to, nor does he have a real ability to defend himself.
3. “The Penal Colony”
“The Penal Colony,” tells the story of the brutal and horrifying execution of a prisoner. The narrative focuses heavily on the “apparatus” that’s going to carve the prisoner’s sentence on his back before letting him die. Through the story, the purpose of this process is revealed. It is the administrator’s belief that only through pain will a prisoner learn the truth of their misdeed.
4. The Castle
The Castle is a novel that follows “K” the protagonist who arrives at a village, hoping to get access to a castle. He struggles to complete this task and unfortunately, Kafka died before finishing the novel. He suggested that it would end with K. dying in the village and receiving and absurd, Kafkaesque letter from the castle.
5. “A Hunger Artist”
In this strange and troubling story, Kafka describes the profession of a hunger artists who starves himself for the entertainment of others. This artist who is the focus of this story has started to lose interest in his profession. At the same time, he is reaching the pinnacle of his art. It was published in 1922.
6. “A Country Doctor”
“A Country Doctor” is a short story that was written in 1917 and published in a collection of the same name. It details the journey of a doctor in the middle of a winter night. He goes to visit a patient and while there faces a series of absurd and surreal obstacles.
7. Letter to His Father
Letter to His Father is the name given to a 40+ page letter that Kafka wrote to his father Hermann. Within it, he outlines the fears and stresses of his childhood and the influence his father had on him, mostly a negative one. it was Kafka’s hope that by writing this letter he and his father would be bale to bridge the gap between them. But, his mother never gave the letter to his father as he’d asked. Instead, it was returned to him.
This incomplete novel is also known as The Man Who Disappeared. It was written between 1911 and 1914 and describes the journey of a sixteen-year-old European Karl Roßmann. He was forced to immigrate to America became of a scandal involving a housemaid. The novel breaks off without a conclusion but he told his friend Max Brod that the novel would end with reconciliation.
9. Letters to Milena
This book is a collection of many of Kafka’s letters that he wrote to Milena Jesenská over a three year period in the 1920s. They were first published in German in 1952 and then in English a year later. They’re filled with memorable quotes that shed light on Kafka’s mental state during that period.
10. “The Burrow”
This story is one of several that Kafka left unfinished before he died. It was published posthumously in 1931. It is a strange and unnerving story about a being that burrows through a system of tunnels that it’s built over its lifetime.The creature is constantly afraid of something happened to his burrow ors one kind of attack from an enemy. He starts to become obsessed with a noise and decides to investigate it. It is thought that the story was supposed to have concluded with the invasion of a beast that disrupts the system.