99 years on: Kafka’s Metamorphosis

The original 1915 cover to Kafka's Metamorphosis

The original 1915 cover illustration to Kafka’s Metamorphosis

“When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed…”

99 years on and the opening line to Kafka’s Metamorphosis is still as creepily unnerving as the day it was written. A lot happens in just shy of a century: two world wars, 4.8 billion people and more than a few literary revolutions.

On its 1915 release the Prague-born writer was living in a cold, cramped apartment; his sense of hopelessness unchallenged by his surroundings.

Metamorphosis is often seen as a representation of Kafka’s sense of isolation and failure: he was a Jew living in virulently anti-Semitic times, a let-down to his successful businessman father, a German living in the Czech capital Prague.

But more than anything, the power of his novel has managed to transcend nearly a century because of its ability to be read and reread on so many levels.

It’s a dreamscape of philosophical ideas, Nietzches’s nihilism; a political discourse, the antipathy of a Marxist living in a struggling capitalistic world; a lasting horror told through the mundanity of ordinary existence; and last year, a onetime Google doodle.

A novel as relevant today as it was in 1915: our November issue’s thematic namesake, and probably its most famous reference – Metamorphosis is a must read.

Here’s to another 99 years.


Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Other Stories is published by Penguin, and is available to purchase on Amazon.