Konundrum: Selected Prose of Franz Kafka


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Published: October 25, 2016



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Book Description

In this new selection and translation, Peter Wortsman mines Franz Kafka’s entire opus of short proseincluding works published in the author’s brief lifetime, stories published posthumously, journals, and lettersfor narratives that sound the imaginative depths of the great German-Jewish scribe from Prague. It is the first volume in English to consider his deeply strange, resonantly humane letters and journal entries alongside his classic short fiction and lyrical vignettes. “Transformed” is a vivid retranslation of one of Kafka’s signature stories, “Die Verwandlung,” commonly rendered in English as “The Metamorphosis.” Composed of short, black-comic parables, fables, fairy tales, reflections, as well as classic stories like “In the Penal Colony,” Kafka’s uncanny foreshadowing of the 20th century’s nightmare, Konundrum refreshes the writer’s mythic storytelling powers for a new generation of readers.

Konundrum is a welcomed collection of some of Kafka's short works. It's high time we introduce this classic author to a new generation, and this collection could just do the trick.
Daniel, Goodreads review

Wortsman's selection balances the canonical (Metamorphosis, Penal Colony, Academy) with some lesser-known selections from the diaries and notebooks. . . Wortsman reminded me why I loved Kafka so much when I was younger.
Justin Evans, Goodreads review

Wortsman has done an excellent job of translating . . . the writings I was not familiar with were delightful, and the ones I knew seemed full of new life.
Drew Anderson, Goodreads review

His characters are extreme, and his descriptions as he sets a scene are incredibly vivid. The translation is superb and it seems as though Kafka himself has written in English . . . Konundrum is a real literary treat and will hopefully bring the exquisite prose of Kafka the acclaim in the English speaking world that it fully deserves.
Rosemary Standeven, Goodreads review

Many editions of Kafka's work exist. Worstman's edition should the be the basic Kafka edition for all readers. His translation is smooth and simple, like the language Kafka intended. Also, his selection from letters and diary entries preludes the essential stories, novellas, short novels, prose (for Kafka categories are not simple). Kafka basically lived to write literature and to become literature. Worstman honors such intention.
Antonio Delgado, Goodreads review

It is easy to see why Kafka has the reputation that he has. This book was incredible. This is the first that I have read of Kafka's work, so I cannot compare it to other translations, but it was a clear, vibrant translation.
Shaye, Goodreads review

Not only does the excellence of the translations in Peter Wortsman's Konundrum: Selected Prose of Franz Kafka delight, but he wisely decided to mix-and-match a number of Kafka’s texts, fiction and non-fiction. Not only are the oft-printed stories (“In the Penal Colony,” “The Hunger Artist”) here, but diary entires, parables, and excepts from letters. The result is a distinctive vision of the writer — not the “patron saint of neurotics” beloved by the 20th century, but a black comic absurdist who seems particularly apt for the 21st century.

Bill Marx, The Arts Fuse

Konundrum’s prescient vision of identity mediated, controlled, and distorted via the gaze of popular trend and opinion makes it relevant, if not required, reading. Readers will doubtlessly continue to identify with and apply their own multilayered re-contextualizations to Wortsman’s accessible rendition of Kafkaesque individual and collective self-obsession, paranoia, and unreality.

Christine Cheon, The Brooklyn Rail

The translator Peter Wortsman’s excellent and bracing new selection of Kafka’s stories, Konundrum: Selected Prose of Franz Kafka...brings the author’s peculiar rhetoric to glorious life.

Morten Høi Jensen, Los Angeles Review of Books

Wortsman’s selection of what he considers to be the very best of Kafka’s short prose, whether it’s a story, a letter, a journal entry, a parable, or an aphorism distinguishes Konundrum from the other new translations...In his afterword, Wortsman remarks on how fresh and alive Kafka’s prose still is today and I can only agree...Wortsman does an excellent job of maintaining the long, looping run-on sentences essential to German grammar, while at the same time keeping a rhythm and readability for the English speaking reader.

Eric Andrew Newman, Cleaver Magazine

The translation is superb and it seems as though Kafka himself has written in English. This is a book you can dip into, read a couple of stories at a time. But be warned – it is addictive. It is also not conducive to a good night’s sleep – too many weird and wonderful fancies start to rattle around in your brain. Konundrum is a real literary treat and will hopefully bring the exquisite prose of Kafka the acclaim in the English speaking world that it fully deserves.

Rosemary Standeven, Waterstones

Based on this collection, I’d like to see more of Wortsman’s work. His afterword was good as well, particularly when he compared retranslating a beloved old text to covering a classic tune . . . Kafka is the vegemite of high-brow literature. You either hate it, love it, or hate it and then realise you love it. Konundrum is an excellent starting place to try his stuff out.

Peter Kelly, Super Novel

Peter  Wortsman's new translation ... deftly reproduces the sonority, zest, and lyricism of the original prose.

Ross Benjamin, for Wortsman's translation of Telegrams of the Soul

There is a sense in which Kafka's Jewish question (“What have I in common with Jews?”) has become everybody's question, Jewish alienation the template for all our doubts. What is Muslimness? What is femaleness? What is Polishness? These days we all find our anterior legs flailing before us. We're all insects, all Ungeziefer, now.

Zadie Smith

The common experience of Kafka's readers is one of general and vague fascination, even in stories they fail to understand, a precise recollection of strange and seemingly absurd images and descriptions – until one day the hidden meaning reveals itself to them with the sudden evidence of a truth simple and incontestable.

Hannah Arendt

The interspersing of non-fiction entries was illuminating and interesting. If you love Kafka, as I do, this is a must-have. It is a volume I will return to again and again.

Ellie, Goodreads review

I want to commend Peter Wortsman, who translated all the selected work from German to English. He did a masterful job at capturing the unique voice of Mr. Kafka, and I say unique because there is a sort of reality-detachment in sections of his work which can only be thoroughly enjoyed with the right words.

Allerdale, Goodreads review

Wortsman, who is both a fiction writer, and a translator, changed the way I think about Kafka...Could we call him pre-cognitive of both the 20 and 21st centuries? In this translation, he's a man for any time.

Susan Weinstein, Not Another Book Review

Now Peter Wortsman...has given us a collection that delivers the unexpected joy of reading Kafka as if for the first time...It’s the perfect reacquaintance; before you know it, you have read twenty pages.

Gary Kern, Amazon book review

I have always enjoyed the flow of language that is unique to Kafka. As with some of his longer works, these excerpts and short stories flow through your mind like a neighborhood creek, little ripples here and there and a first sense of destination...All were beautifully written and translated to maintain that Kafka flow. Thank you, Peter Wortsman, for that.

Bonnye Reed, Goodreads review

Composed of short, black comic parables, fables, fairy tales, and reflections, Konundrum also includes classic stories like 'In the Penal Colony,' Kafka's prescient foreshadowing of the nightmare of the twentieth century, refreshing the writer's mythic storytelling powers for a new generation of readers.

Jewish Book Council

Wortsman’s Konundrum stands out among Kafka collections for its editorial practices, even more than for its translation choices ... His attention to the shorter short works reveals a turn that appreciation seems currently to be taking: if Kafka’s novels dominated the 20th century, space and desire may exist now for a different, shorter Kafka, the one of Konundrum... Wortsman’s collection has much to offer the Kafka scholar as well as a first-time Kafka reader.

Saskia Elizabeth Ziolkowski, Public Books

Old favorites such as "The Metamorphosis," translated in this collection by Wortsman as "Transformed" appear in this volume with fresh, updated language for a 21st century audience... Three additional works of short prose that particularly attracted my attention... all showcase Kafka's ability to take elements of the fantastic and put a realistic and even humorous spin on them.

The Book Binder's Daughter

The Kafka Project features an extensive biography, essays by Kafka scholars, photos of his original manuscripts, and many of his texts in German.

From 2007 to 2012, a court in Israel considered the question: who should own many of Kafka’s manuscripts?. For more on this trial, you can read Judith Butler’s fascinating essay in The London Review of Books, in which she also discusses the issues of art and ownership, as well as Kafka’s German citizenship and Jewishness.

Franz Kafka has been notoriously difficult to translate. Here’s Susan Bernofsky in The New Yorker on the challenges of translating just The Metamorphosis, and Open Culture has posted some of Vladimir Nabokov’s tweaks to the Muir translation.

Open Culture also has some of Kafka’s drawings up on their site.

Watch the trailer for the Franz Kafka Museum in Prague, which houses many first edition Kafkas, as well as exclusive manuscripts, letters, diaries, photos, and drawings. But readers interested in visiting the museum should consider this report on the “Franza Kafka Airport” from The Onionand maybe look into alternative ways of travel.

Read an interview between Peter Wortsman and The Arts Fuse editor Bill Marx here about Konundrum and the timelessness of Kafka.

Listen to an interview between Peter Wortsman and Leonard Schwartz on his radio show “Cross-Cultural Poetics” here.

Read Peter Wortsman’s essay about his love affair with Vienna in the The Paris Review.