Kitchen Stories: Literary and Architectural Reflections on Modern Kitchens in Central Europe
Crossing Central Europe: Continuities and Transformations, 1900 and 2000
In his unfinished novel Amerika or The Man who Disappeared, Franz Kafka describes the futility of accomplishing a task, as he so often does in his literary work. Here, though, failure occurs in an unusual place - an American kitchen:
[S]he [the cook] couldn't prepare the food, a thick soup was cooking in two
gigantic pots, and however often the woman tested it with ladles and poured
it down from high up, she couldn't get it right, it must be the fault of the
inadequate fire, and so she sat down in front of the door, and raked about in
the glowing coals with the poker. The smoke which filled the kitchen gave
her a cough which at times was so violent that she would reach for a chair
and for several minutes do nothing but cough. (The Man 187)
This kitchen is antiquated; the oven is still powered by a coal fire, not gas or electricity. Kafka introduces this kitchen scene by stressing the technical difficulties of cooking in an old kitchen, but by the passage's end it is the impact on the individuals in the room that is more striking. The woman's body is under attack; the smoke causes her painful, debilitating cough. This leads to a failure of both woman and kitchen to produce the needed food. As the text continues, an additional failure appears: the main character, Karl, and his fellow manservant, Robinson, are unable to fulfill their employer's wish for breakfast. The kitchen's aging design thus produces a longer chain of events that impacts the bodies and lives of many.
McGaughey, Sarah. "Kitchen Stories: Literary and Architectural Reflections on Modern Kitchens in Central Europe." In Crossing Central Europe: Continuities and Transformations, 1900 and 2000, edited by Helga Mitterbauer and Carrie Smith-Prei, 100-118. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017.