Well-known to be one of the best short story writers of his century, Franz Kafka turns up in school curriculums and must-read lists often \u2013 and for good reason.\r\n\r\nHis stories border between realism and the wacky in ways that make us question what we know about life, humanity, and writing itself.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nKafka manages to do a lot in his writing and do it simply and humbly.\r\n\r\nLike Hemingway, Mansfield, and Woolf, his writing was always among those that my lecturers spent hours poring over, line by line, for the meaning and truth hidden there.\r\n\r\nThe test of a good (literary) writer is in being able to read and re-read their work, always finding new things to question your thinking.\r\n\r\nKafka most definitely does this with his unmistakably unsettling writing.\r\n\r\nKafka is a writer still celebrated over 90 years since his death... Image Credit: Gareth via. Flickr Creative Commons\r\nWho was Kafka?\r\nUpon reading the introduction to one of his collected works, I found myself intrigued by how our personal stories impact our creative ones.\r\n\r\nTranslator and academic Michael Hoffman wrote that Kafka was \u2018a publication-averse recluse\u2019, and that his \u2018biggest problems were always with himself, his self-doubt, his savage self-criticism\u2019 (Hoffman 2007, ix).\r\n\r\nKafka certainly wasn\u2019t alone in this \u2013 we\u2019ve all been there.\r\n\r\nBut Kafka famously took his self-doubt to a new level by asking his closest friend, Max Brod, to burn all of his writings upon his death and let his previously published works sell out their copies (and not to re-print them).\r\n\r\nLucky for us, when the time came Brod was smart enough to keep all of Kafka\u2019s work and approach publishers to have them posthumously printed.\r\n\r\nWith so much self-doubt pulling Kafka back it\u2019s a wonder that he wrote as prolifically as he did, and with as much unique style.\r\n\r\nDespite that nagging anti-muse that we\u2019ve all heard in the backs of our own minds, Kafka managed to express himself artfully and write fantastical stories that are studied to this day.\r\n\r\n\r\nEssential Reading\r\n5 Contemporary Short Stories to Inspire Your Own Fiction\r\n\r\n\r\nWhat is \u2018Kafka-esque\u2019 writing?\r\nIf you\u2019ve never read a story by Franz Kafka (which you should do right after you finish reading this!) it\u2019s quite difficult to describe just how his writing makes you feel.\r\n\r\nHoffman says that Kafka\u2019s writing is \u2018a perfect work of literary art, as approachable as it is strange, and as strange as it is approachable\u2019 (Hoffman 2007, viii).\r\n\r\nThere\u2019s a sense that you\u2019re reading a simple story, with simple writing, but you feel that you\u2019re missing something that\u2019s not so simple to grasp.\r\nWe obscurely feel, we bet, we practicality know there is something more going on in a story, something probably to do with sex or violence or families or metaphysics, but we\u2019re damned if we know what it is.\r\nHoffman 2007, x\r\n\r\nKafka-esque is a term coined to describe stories that border the surreal and the dark, self-interrogation of modernism. It\u2019s a bit weird, a bit confronting, and completely literary.\r\n\r\nOther famous writers who were either directly influenced by the Kafka-esque style or could be described as working in the same genre, include Albert Camus, Haruki Murakami, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.\r\n\r\nThe most popular and influential of Kafka's works, 'Metamorphosis'... Image Credit: Poster Boy via Flickr Creative Commons\r\n\r\n\r\nEssential Reading\r\n5 Reasons Novelists Should Write Short Stories\r\n\r\n\r\nTop Three Short Stories by Kafka\r\nWhile all of Kafka\u2019s works are worth reading, it helps to know where to start. This is by no means a definitive top three, but they\u2019re a good introduction to the scope of Kafka\u2019s style; quirky and fantastic, raw and confronting, subtle and heart-breaking.\r\n\r\nOther popular works include The Trial and his first novel Amerika (also known as The Man Who Disappeared).\r\nMetamorphosis\r\nUndoubtedly his most famous work, \u2018Metamorphosis\u2019 or \u2018Die Verwandlung\u2019, is a great starting place for anyone new to Kafka\u2019s writing. True to form, Kafka tosses the reader into the midst of the story, beginning \u2018in media res\u2019 when Gregor Samsa wakes one morning to find himself turned into a giant beetle (commonly thought of as a cockroach).\r\n\r\nGregor becomes isolated from his family as he struggles to communicate and to live a healthy life. He is \u2018simply tolerated\u2019 and he is abhorred, with the story exploring themes of depression, otherness, and in the very end, hope.\r\n\r\nOne of his longer works, \u2018Metamorphosis\u2019 can easily be read in a day and it\u2019s the kind of story that you keep coming back to, always discovering little gems in the nuances of the lines.\r\nIn The Penal Colony\r\nThis was one of the more shocking stories that I read by Kafka, and while it confronts you with grotesque concepts it explores incredibly important themes about cruelty, judgement, and shame.\r\n\r\nAnother story that begins \u2018in media res\u2019, the story begins with a man who has been invited to tour a penal colony and the commandant\u2019s torture machine that\u2019s used as punishment. There\u2019s an intense sense of irony in this piece, and it forces you to find meaning amidst the horror.\r\n\r\nWhile \u2018In the Penal Colony\u2019 is confronting, it is certainly worth reading for its pacing, the way it slowly twists, and the striking characters that are so well rounded in such a short space of time.\r\nThe Hunger Artist\r\nWhile I read this piece for the first time I felt compulsion and helplessness; I wanted to do something in the story but I couldn\u2019t. I think a lot of people feel this way every day, and Kafka captures that with the idea that \u2018to starve is the easiest thing in the world\u2019 (Kafka 2007, 254).\r\n\r\n\u2018The Hunger Artist\u2019 is about an occupation that, in the storyworld, was once popular and looked upon with reverence: to starve, artfully, for as long as possible. Being a hunger-artist eventually falls out of fashion, but one man keeps his act up while the world no longer seems to care.\r\n\r\nThemes of isolation, similar to \u2018The Metamorphosis\u2019, and of art and self-expression sit under the surface of the story and make this a literary work that balances elements of magical realism with metafiction.\r\n\r\nBibliography:\r\n\r\nHoffman, Michael 2007, 'Introduction' in Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Franz Kafka, Penguin Books, England, vii-xv\r\n\r\nKafka, Franz 2007, 'The Hunger Artist' in Metamorphoses and Other Stories by Franz Kafka, Penguin Books, England, 254\r\n\r\nClick here to learn more about our top 10 classic short stories!