Notable Books of the Twenties: The Trial – Franz Kafka (1925)

The Trial by Franz Kafka (1925)

Kafka wrote the trial between 1914 and 1915, but it wasn’t published until 1925, a year after he died (mainly because his chronic self-esteem issues led him to make his best friend promise to burn his manuscripts after his death. Fortunately for the world, the friend ignored his dying wish). The Trial is a dark, melancholy story of confusion and existential dread, about a man suddenly arrested for a crime that’s never revealed to him.

The novel was one among a small oeuvre that compelled the poet WH Auden to call Kafka “the Dante of the 20th century.” The book, in short, encapsulated the growing fears of the time surrounding totalitarian oppression, alienation and bureaucracy in the modern world. And it’s influence on contemporary thinking was profound. We’re all conflicted, torn between worlds, trapped in situations from which we can’t escape. The Trial embodies that modern malaise, and even spawned a word for it (we all know it): Kafkaesque.

Notable Books of the Twenties: The Waste Land – T. S. Eliot (1922)

‘Complimenti, you bitch,’ wrote Ezra Pound to Eliot in 1922 upon reading a near-final draft of his friend’s latest work, which Pound had edited. ‘I am wracked by the seven jealousies.’ Pound – no slouch in the poetry department himself – knew not only that Eliot had just given the emerging Modernist literature movement its standard bearer, but that he had just read what would surely become known as one of the greatest poems of the 20th century. Sure enough, it did.

The masterpiece – about the devastating aftermath of the First World War – defied convention as it weaved different voices, to explore themes of trauma, disillusion, and death, wrapped in the barbed wire of Eliot’s electrifying intellect. With The Waste Land, he lay waste to old notions of poetry’s role as an art form, and changed the way it was written forever.