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  • Writer's pictureCraig Messenger

Judging Books by Their Covers | 004

Published a year after its author’s death, The Trial is a strange book, or rather it provides a strange reading experience is probably a more accurate description. Some parts of the story were left unfinished, others rushed, as Kafka bounced between different projects near the end of his life. This couples with Kafka’s style itself, a writing cadence that operates in a range between simple and barren. This style, this sort of trench coat of expression, delivers Kafka’s words in a seriousness and a solemnity. His continued themes of loss of individuality and unyielding persecution throughout his books tie in well with his language’s gray hues. I need to read a lot more Kafka to better understand and appreciate his ideas and how he conveys them, but, luckily, we can critique his cover’s artistry with minimal scholarly qualifications.


This charcoaled and carberneted cover is the livery that adorns my vern own copy of the book, and its behind bars image is front and center. I’m not sure why K, the story’s confused and coerced main character, is red. The black abyss of its border is a fitting ode to the absoluteness of so many aspects of K’s persecution: or rather the nebulousness of the persecution but the absoluteness of its progression. The beginning of The Trial’s plot has K running around in circles, but by the halfway point it is clear that his path has a third dimension – that he is on an orbiting spiral, funneling down closer and closer to infinity, just as the vertical lines of this cover gravitate south to their titular ends. I think this is my favorite for its subtle, foreboding nature.


In a colony wrought with pupil dilation, sunburn – don’t be the hazel cyclops amongst the blue-eyed, twin-orbed proletariat.

I like this cover because it reminds me of the school jackets of the dystopian novels that came after The Trial, stood upon its shoulders. If only Kafka knew that if he’d just finished a couple more chapters, cleaned a few things up, he could have become a posthumous legend not just at literary carnivals but in junior year English classrooms as well. Kafka isn’t listed as an influence on either Orwell nor Huxley’s wikipedia pages, and I’ve yet to interview them directly, but the omnipresence of The Trial’s Court – its fine settling onto all worldly surfaces like a bureaucratic dust – is undeniably mirrored in the dystopian works that came to print in the following decades.


This reminds me of the end of Annihilation. These blops or bloops or oil plumes that don’t look like anything, really, but the more I look at them the more they kind of look like something and I shudder at them a little and flinch maybe like the reaction to a well-ricocheted basketball miss and they kind of look like men now don’t they yeah they do and why are the men coming closer and closer they are closing in now and that one has the forearms of a man that has never thrown away a jar on the grounds of being locked out of it and I’ve watched enough UFC to know that those types of men, those well forearmed men, are the types that I really don’t want to get their hands on me and well but no if I just zoom out a little bit the cover actually just looks like the upside-down exterior of a paint can after I’ve gotten to like the third wall, moved the ladder a couple of –oh!- no now they’re coming agai...


Light and its absence, as well as windows and doors and their penchants for confinement are continued motifs in the book. K is a man who would prefer his buildings well fenestrated. And along with this, buildings infected by the court’s dust (i.e. all buildings) tend to bring about a nauseating side effect in K’s internals, a ministerial manifestation of asbestos insulation, this symbolized by the haziness in this cover’s courtroom. The silhouetted trial audience, their vapid homogeneity, flanks K with a boundary that can’t be seen yet also can’t be crossed. The symbols in this artwork are rich and appropriate. If this scene was a bit darker, less well-lit, colored in the mining dust of the first book cover above, it would be perhaps the winner of this competition.

And if used books give you the heebie jeebies, or maybe an old Eucalyptus wronged your family in the past, you can buy a brand new Trial here.

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