Carolin Duttlinger at the TLS:
A good route into The Burrow, Michael Hofmann’s new collection of translations of Kafka’s short stories, is via the penultimate piece, “Homecoming”: “I have come home; I stride down the passageway and am looking about me. It is my father’s old farm. The puddle in the middle of the farmyard. A tangle of useless old gear blocking the steps up to the loft. The cat lurking by the balustrade”. These opening lines encapsulate the allure of Kafka’s prose: the tangible everyday quality of his narrative world, at once recognizable and strange, banal and unsettling. The text also contains several of Kafka’s core themes: the relationship between father and son; the perspective of the outside; and our ambiguous relationship with the world of animals and objects. To the narrator it seems that “the things stand there next to one another coldly, as though each were busy with its own concerns, which I have partly forgotten, partly never knew”.
Kafka wrote “Homecoming” from 1923 to 1924, during the last winter of his life, which he spent with Dora Diamant in Berlin, having finally got away from Prague and his parents. The text is, above all, a meditation on Heimat – home, belonging, and the mixture of longing and alienation associated with this idea. Hofmann has the narrator walk “down the passageway”, though the German “Flur” more commonly means “hallway”. The word implies that the protagonist is already inside the house, and yet unable to cross over into the kitchen, its social centre. Homecoming, then, is not a straightforward act of arrival, but a hovering on the threshold, neither outside nor inside – a position which this narrator shares with so many of Kafka’s protagonists.