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Amerika (novel)

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First published edition
EditorMax Brod
AuthorFranz Kafka
Working titleDer Verschollene
Publication placeGermany
Media typePrint

Amerika, (German working title Der Verschollene, "The Missing") also known as The Man Who Disappeared (Amerika),[1] Amerika: The Missing Person[2] and Lost in America,[3] is the incomplete first novel by author Franz Kafka (1883–1924), written between 1911 and 1914[4] and published posthumously in 1927. The novel originally began as a short story titled "The Stoker". The novel incorporates many details of the experiences of his relatives who had emigrated to the United States. The commonly used title Amerika is from the edition of the text put together by Kafka's close friend, Max Brod, after Kafka's death in 1924. It has been published in several English-language versions, including as Amerika, translated by Edwin and Willa Muir (1938); as The Man Who Disappeared (Amerika), translated by Michael Hofmann (1996); as Amerika: The Missing Person, translated by Mark Harman (2008), as Lost in America, translated by Anthony Northey (2010), and as The Man Who Disappeared (America), translated by Ritchie Robertson (2012).

Plot summary[edit]

The first chapter of this novel is a short story titled "The Stoker".

The story describes the bizarre wanderings of sixteen-year-old European immigrant Karl Roßmann (Rossmann), who was forced to go to New York City to escape the scandal of being sexually assaulted by a housemaid. As the ship arrives in the United States, he becomes friends with a stoker who is about to be dismissed from his job. Karl identifies with the stoker and decides to help him; together they go to see the captain of the ship. In a surreal turn of events, Karl's uncle, Senator Jacob, is in a meeting with the captain. Karl does not know that Senator Jacob is his uncle, but Mr. Jacob recognizes him and takes him away from the stoker.

Karl stays with his uncle for some time but is later abandoned by him after making a visit to his uncle's friend without his uncle's full approval. Wandering aimlessly, he becomes friends with two drifters named Robinson and Delamarche. They promise to find him a job, but they sell his suit without permission, eat his food in front of him without offering him any, and ransack his belongings. Finally, Karl departs from them on bad terms after he's offered a job by a manager at Hotel Occidental. He works there as a lift-boy. One day Robinson shows up drunk at his work asking him for money. Afraid of losing his job if seen talking with a friend, which is forbidden for lift-boys, Karl agrees to lend him money, then commits the far worse offence of bunking a drunk-sick Robinson in the lift-boy dorm.

Being dismissed for leaving his post, Karl agrees not only to pay for Robinson's taxi, but also joins him. They travel to Delamarche's place. Delamarche is now staying with a wealthy and obese lady named Brunelda. She wants to take in Karl as her servant. Karl refuses, but Delamarche physically forces him to stay and he is imprisoned in her apartment. He tries to break out, but is beaten by Delamarche and Robinson. On the balcony, he chats with a student who tells him he should stay, because it is hard to find a job elsewhere. He decides to stay.

One day he sees an advertisement for the Nature Theatre of Oklahoma, which is looking for employees. The theatre promises to find employment for everyone. Karl applies for a job and gets engaged as a "technical worker." He is then sent to Oklahoma by train and is welcomed by the vastness of the valleys and adopts the name "Negro" as his own.



In conversations Kafka used to refer to this book as his "American novel", later he called it simply The Stoker, after the title of the first chapter, which appeared separately in 1913.[5] Kafka's working title was The Man Who Disappeared (Der Verschollene).[6] The title Amerika was chosen by Kafka's literary executor, Max Brod, who assembled the uncompleted manuscript and published it after his death.[6] Brod donated the manuscript to the University of Oxford.[7]


Kafka broke off his work on this novel with unexpected suddenness, and it remained unfinished. From what he told his friend and biographer Max Brod, the incomplete chapter "The Nature Theatre of Oklahoma" (a chapter the beginning of which particularly delighted Kafka, so that he used to read it aloud with great effect) was intended to be the concluding chapter of the work and was supposed to end on a note of reconciliation. In enigmatic language, Kafka used to hint smilingly that within this "almost limitless" theatre his young hero was going to find again a profession, a stand-by, his freedom, even his old home and his parents, as if by some celestial witchery.[8]

The parts of the narrative immediately preceding this chapter are also incomplete. Two large fragments, describing Karl's service with Brunelda, are extant, but do not fill up the gaps. Only the first six chapters were divided and given titles by Kafka.[8]

Major themes[edit]

The novel is more explicitly humorous but slightly more realistic (except in the last chapter) than most of Kafka's works, but it shares the same motifs of an oppressive and intangible system putting the protagonist repeatedly in bizarre situations. Specifically, within Amerika, a scorned individual often must plead his innocence in front of remote and mysterious figures of authority. However, it is often Karl who voluntarily submits to such treatment (helping a drunk Robinson at the hotel rather than having him thrown out, paying for Robinson's taxi, travelling to Delamarche's home, resigning himself to stay in imprisonment).

In the story, the Statue of Liberty is holding a sword, and some scholars have interpreted this as a "might makes right" philosophy Kafka may have believed the United States holds.[9]


Kafka was fond of reading travel books and memoirs. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin was one of his favorite books, from which he liked reading passages aloud. Although he always had a longing for free space and distant lands, it is said that he never travelled farther than France and Upper Italy.[10] Despite this, a rare photo shows Kafka with an unidentified man at Marielyst beach in Denmark.[11]

Kafka, at the time, was also reading, or rereading, several novels by Charles Dickens and wrote in his diary: "My intention was, as I now see, to write a Dickens novel, enriched by the sharper lights which I took from our modern times, and by the pallid ones I would have found in my own interior."[12]


Film and television



  • L'Amérique, ou Le Disparu, a French-language graphic novel by Canadian cartoonist Réal Godbout, published by Les Éditions La Pastèque in 2013.[15] In 2014 it appeared in English, as Amerika (translated by Helge Dascher), published by Conundrum Press.[16]

In popular culture[edit]

Federico Fellini's film Intervista revolves around a fictional filming of this novel's adaptation.

The New York performance group Nature Theater of Oklahoma named themselves after the one in Kafka's novel.[17]

Danish director Lars von Trier's 1991 art film Europa was heavily influenced by the novel, so much so that its title is meant to "mirror" the one of the novel.[citation needed]

German artist Martin Kippenberger attempted to complete the story in his installation The Happy Ending of Franz Kafka's "Amerika".[18]

In 2016, American rock band Young the Giant released the single "Amerika" as part of an inspiration from Kafka's Amerika.[19]



  1. ^ 1996 English translation by Michael Hofmann, Penguin Books
  2. ^ 2008 English translation by Mark Harman, Schocken Books
  3. ^ Kafka, Franz (2010). Lost in America. Translated by Northey, Anthony. Prague: Vitalis Verlag. ISBN 978-80-7253-316-9.
  4. ^ Douglas Shields Dix, "The Man Who Disappeared: Kafka Imagining Amerika", Kafka.org
  5. ^ Kafka (1946, 300).
  6. ^ a b Kafka (1996, xiii).
  7. ^ Israeli museum wants Kafka manuscript from Germany
  8. ^ a b Kafka (1946, 301).
  9. ^ Sussman, Henry (1979). Franz Kafka: Geometrician of Metaphor. Madison, WI: Coda Press. pp. 72–94. ISBN 978-0-930-95602-8.
  10. ^ Kafka (1946, 300–301).
  11. ^ "A la derecha, Franz Kafka, junto a un desconocido en la playa de Marielyst (Dinamarca)." (photo), El País, 9 July 2008
  12. ^ Kafka (1946, ix–x).
  13. ^ See, Rich (2003) CurtainUp DC Review of America. The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings. Retrieved on July 16, 2014.
  14. ^ Amerika, performance details
  15. ^ "L'Amérique ou le disparu". Les Éditions La Pastèque. Archived from the original on 2016-01-02. Retrieved 2016-03-14. ISBN 978-2-923841-35-9
  16. ^ "Amerika | Conundrum Press". Retrieved 2021-03-11.
  17. ^ " 'Theatre is awkward, weird and dirty': Nature Theatre of Oklahoma head this way" by Maddy Costa, The Guardian, 1 May 2013
  18. ^ "Tate Modern| Past Exhibitions | Martin Kippenberger". 2009-11-09. Archived from the original on 2009-11-09. Retrieved 2023-04-08.
  19. ^ Johnston, Maura (2016-08-11). "Young the Giant Talk Taking on 'Amerika' With New Immigrant-Themed LP". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2020-11-13.


External links[edit]