‘We have to read the books that ask more of us than we are willing to give,’ said Franz Kafka, the remarkable Czech-German writer who lived around a century ago.
In his seminal work The Metamorphosis, an ordinary young man, Gregor Samsa, wakes up one morning in his parents’ home to find that he has been metamorphosed during the night into a large, loathsome cockroach-like creature. He can’t work and is confined to his room. The young man who dedicated himself to helping his family becomes a pariah, through no fault of his own. A family narrative develops: the ‘creature’ devolves from being their son into ‘something’ that must be eliminated.
Kafka’s novel was first published in 1915, when the Armenian Genocide was evolving. Being born Jewish in the Bohemian capital of Prague, he must have had a strong understanding of anti-Semitism and a better than literary comprehension of what it meant to be demonised. He must have become aware of the power of literature to evoke emotion and its ability to confront people with uncomfortable truths.
Any novel about the Armenian Genocide must highlight to us that inhumanities exist and literature – by its unique connection between each individual reader and the text – can demand more that the reader might normally give, and in doing so, can draw attention to great wrongs and profound truths.