Thursday, April 28, 2011

Kafka’s House / Gabriela Popa

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Historical Fiction

Approximate word count: 40-45,000 words

Availability Kindle: YES    Nook: YES    Paper: NO
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon or B&N store


A native of Romania, when not writing Gabriela Popa is a scientist who specializes in cancer research. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri. Popa has a blog where, among other things, she interviews fellow writers.


A coming-of-age story set in 1960s Romania.


Near the beginning, when eight-year old Silvia Marcu, the protagonist and narrator of Kafka’s House, is introducing herself to the reader she mentions that people who live in small houses make her uneasy. She then relates this to how she felt years later when she visited the house in Prague where Franz Kafka once lived. This house, while extremely small, is also where Kafka wrote much of his work. Silvia says, “I was stunned to see how someone with such vast inner spaces can live in such a ridiculously small house.”

If there is an overriding theme to Kafka’s House, it is while someone might be restricted in many ways it is still possible to have an enjoyable and full life by focusing on those areas that are unrestricted. Romania in the 1960s was very restrictive. The country was communist, with the constraints that implies. The Soviets were invading neighboring Czechoslovakia, which created more stress and less freedom as they prepared for the possibility of war. Silvia’s house, while larger than Kafka’s, was still small and crowded with Silvia, her parents, and sister living in a two-room apartment. Yet, Silvia had a zest for life and all it had to offer.

I found the book enjoyable, not only for the story, but for the glimpse it gave of growing up in a different country and culture. The differences are revealing, yet I found the similarities show almost as much. Kids interact with each other in the same way, regardless of country. They worry about schoolwork. They love to play and are sharp observers of the world around them as they seek to understand that world and their place in it. Some experiences truly are universal.


Although Popa wrote Kafka’s House in English, she then translated it to Romanian. A Romanian publisher released that version, Casa lui Kafka, in 2007. If you’d prefer reading the book in Romanian it is available in both Kindle and paper versions.

Format/Typo Issues:

There were a small number of typos. There were also a fair number of grammar issues, the vast majority using a singular word where a plural would have been correct and vice versa.

In my version (downloaded directly from Amazon in early February), many lines had a leading hyphen. It appeared these might have been intended to designate dialogue. In addition, dialogue was not enclosed in quotation marks. If the story appeals to you, I would advise sampling first before making the purchase commitment. Although I did not find this terribly distracting or confusing I’m sure some people would.

Rating: **** Four stars


Cookie’s Mom said...

Great review, Al. I also enjoyed Kafka's house. Gabriela has such a beautiful, optimistic writing voice. I had the great fortune to interview her on my blog, and can say that she is as genuinely nice 'in person' as you would think based on her writing style.

BooksAndPals said...

Thanks, Cookie's Mom.

tennysoneehemingway said...

I'm quite a fan of the leading hyphen to indicate dialogue. I think it makes things quite a bit neater. Leonard Cohen did that in his Beautiful Losers book. I think I'll be checking this out.

BooksAndPals said...

tennysoneehemingway: I see some variation in format and punctuation practices between US an European authors, but this was a new one. It was consistent enough and read easy enough once I got used to it, however, I had no idea it was an alternative used by others. Thanks for pointing that out.