Literary Classics Reimagined in the Age of Coronavirus: The Trial

alex atkins bookshelf literatureWhat if the opening paragraphs to some of the greatest works of literature were reimagined through the lens of the current coronavirus pandemic exacerbated by a staggering economic collapse? Atkins Bookshelf presents “Literary Classics Reimagined in the Age of Coronavirus” series.

Today we will reimagine the opening paragraph of Franz Kafka’s novel The Trial. The novel begins by introducing us to K., the ambitious Chief of a bank who wakes one day to find himself arrested. But why and by whom? It is never clear. Ultimately K. is helpless against the Law and the elusive and powerful Court that is holding his trial. K. is living a nightmare — he experiences a wide range of emotions: confusion, frustration, hope, and despair — something we can relate to in the age of coronavirus:

Someone must have been telling lies — fake news! — about Josef K., he knew he had done nothing wrong since he had been sheltering in place for months; he hadn’t gone to the bank in all that time; but, one morning, he was arrested. WTF! Every day at eight in the morning he was brought his breakfast by Dr. Fauci’s cook — Dr. Fauci was his landlord — but today she didn’t come. That had never happened before — she was as reliable as an Uber Eats driver (before the pandemic, of course). K. waited a little while, looked from his pillow at the old woman who lived opposite. She was wearing an N95 face mask and disposable gloves — typical attire for the “new normal” — while she watched him with an inquisitiveness quite unusual for her, and finally, both hungry and disconcerted, he rang the bell. There was immediately a knock at the door and a man entered. He had never seen the man in this house before. Anyone who came into K’s room would have been tested for COVID-19. The man was slim but firmly built, his clothes were black and close-fitting, with many folds and pockets, buckles, buttons and a belt, along with the obligatory PPE — all of which gave the impression of being very practical but without making it very clear what they were actually for. “Who are you? Am I being punked?” asked K., sitting half upright in his bed, confused to be found in this rather um… Kafkaesque situation. The man, however, ignored the question just like Trump avoids questions at his self-aggrandizing coronavirus press  carnival shows. His eyes were obscured by the plastic face shield and his expression was inscrutable under the face mask; he merely replied, “You rang?” “Did you mean that sarcastically?” K. asked. “Anna isn’t here; and I know she wasn’t furloughed. She told me she had applied to that financial fiasco known as the PPP program administered by the incompetent bureaucrats at the SBA. So she should have brought me my breakfast,” said K. He tried to work out who the man actually was, first in silence, just through observation and by thinking about it, but the man didn’t stay still to be looked at for very long. Is that Mike Pence? he thought; the resemblance was uncanny — the neatly combed white hair, the deep-sunk beady eyes, the monotone robotic voice, and the uptight stick-up-his-ass posture. Instead the man went over to the door, opened it slightly, and said to his obsequious assistant from the feckless coronavirus task force who was clearly standing immediately behind it, “He wants Anna to bring him his breakfast.”

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