What version of Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" should I read?
April 20, 2009 1:35 PM   Subscribe

Literary Filter: Which English version/translation of Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" should I read for fun?

I know that there is a lot of discussion about how Kafka's writing style is unique to German and cannot be replicated in English. What would be the most faithful and readable (even if not the most literal) translation/edition/version for a general reader like myself.

I am just reading for fun and personal edification, so readability is paramount, but if there are good, insightful (not obtrusive) notes or commentaries I would be interested in that as well.

Bonus points for other good readable English translations/compilations of Kafka's other work (again for a lay audience). Also other good books that would help me understand Kafka (Biography, Literary analysis/discussion, random non-fiction, whatever).
posted by DetonatedManiac to Society & Culture (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Not just Metamorphosis but all Kafka, I strongly recommend the Joachim Neugroschel translations.
posted by jbickers at 1:44 PM on April 20, 2009

I'm fond of this collection, which includes my favorite translation of The Metamorphosis.
posted by katillathehun at 2:29 PM on April 20, 2009

I'm a high school student who read it this year and thoroughly enjoyed the Corngold translation. My simple litmus test is "vermin/bug" in the first line; Corngold and the aforementioned Neugroschel both pass.
posted by seandq at 3:44 PM on April 20, 2009

I have and love this copy of The Complete Stories. It is translated by Willa and Edwin Muir, and it has all sorts of Kafka's grotesque goodies in it.
posted by greekphilosophy at 6:13 PM on April 20, 2009

Response by poster: So, currently I count two votes for the Neugroschel Translation, One for the Corngold translation, and (assuming that katillathehun and greekphilosophy are refering to different editions of the same translation) two votes for the Willa and Edwin Muir compilation (which I have to agree I like the idea of one compact book).

I am torn... can anyone say something (good or bad) about the faithfulness of the Willa and Edwin Muir translations vs the Neugroschel translation?

Thanks for the suggestions so far.
posted by DetonatedManiac at 8:13 PM on April 20, 2009

I can't speak to faithfulness, because I don't speak German and I'm not familiar with any of Kafka's writings in German (though I have been led to understand, like you, that *something* magic and quintessentially "Kafka" is lost in the translation). The Muir translations are not without their faults - while they are entirely readable, they often read like something that has been translated. Passages "feel" too literal at times. Then again, I've never looked at this as a bad thing - since so much of Kafka's writings come across as clinical observations about the nastiness of life. Detached, tepid, judgmental and yet powerless. The literalism makes things like the clinical details of the Torture Machine in "In the Penal Colony" that much more terrifying. Or the description of Gregor Samsa's transformation horrifically precise.

Updike's foreword is a fascinating read for background info.

And I just can't help but plug a movie I recently watched which is, god forgive me, a comedic take on The Metamorphosis. It is called "Rat" and aside from having a ridiculous Doris Day soundtrack, it features Imelda Staunton as the wife of a man who, after doing his bakery deliveries for the day returns to his working-class neighborhood, settles in for the night and *poof* turns into a rat. If you're on a Kafka-kick, and need something to keep you from despairing at the state of the world, this is a great way to unwind and relax and have a laugh.
posted by greekphilosophy at 8:44 AM on April 21, 2009

Best answer: Willa and Edwin Muir are usually chosen by my university's German department when teaching to an English-speaking audience. In general they seem to sacrifice specific words ("Ungeziefer" is indeed translated as "insect") in favor of retaining some of the essential flavor of German. Having read and adored Kafka's stories in their original forms, I do enjoy their translations.

A professor of mine is fond of this discussion of the technical differences between the various choices for The Metamorphosis. It compares each translator's specific choices and lets you appreciate merits of them all even if you ultimately choose only one.

In any case, be sure to check out Peter Kuper's wonderful graphic novel (spoilers!).
posted by teremala at 12:20 PM on April 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Due to poor impulse control and impatience, and the fact it was on sale at Barnes and Noble, I ended going with the hard cover "The Metamorphosis: and other stories" translated by Donna Freed. Her first line is "monstrous vermin" and it has decent but not intrusive end notes.

Am reading and enjoying it so far, it reads well enough except for a few points. I think no matter what I will get the Joachim Neugroschel translations as well when I re-read the story just to see how different the translations really are.

Thanks for the help Hive Mind (By the way, Barnes and Noble does not even think that Neugroschel exists... fyi).
posted by DetonatedManiac at 7:38 PM on May 6, 2009

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