Cel­e­brate Jew­ish Book Month with #30days30authors! JBC invit­ed an author to share thoughts on #Jew­Lit for each day of Jew­ish Book Month. Watch, read, enjoy, and dis­cov­er! 

Today, Orli Aus­lan­der, the author of I Feel Bad: All Day. Every Day. About Every­thing, shares how a Kaf­ka sto­ry deeply impact­ed her. 

You know that feel­ing you get right after you’ve been slapped in the face?

Before the mes­sage that you’ve been hit even reach­es your brain, before the sting­ing pain becomes real, it’s the shock of the impact that gets your atten­tion. Dis­ori­en­ta­tion and con­fu­sion take over. Then alarm, fear, sad­ness and anger before real­i­ty sets in.

This is what hap­pened the first time I read Franz Kafka’s one page story,“An Impe­r­i­al Message.”

The sto­ry, also known as A Mes­sage From the Emper­or,” tells of an Emper­or, the most impor­tant guy in the land, who has sent you, the read­er, the least impor­tant, most con­temptible shit­ti­est sub­ject in the land,I’m para­phras­ing here, a vital­ly impor­tant mes­sage from his deathbed.

He has sent this mes­sage via a fear­less, tire­less, mes­sen­ger who fights his way through crowds, court­yards, stair­cas­es, etc inorder to get the mes­sage to you.

But there are so many obsta­cles in his way that the mes­sen­ger will nev­er make it in a mil­lion years.

I’m about to spoil the end­ing so you can either stop read­ing this, or you can read Kafka’s sto­ry here before con­tin­u­ing:http://​home​.nwciowa​.edu/​f​i​r​t​h​/​k​a​f​k​a.htm

When I first read this sto­ry, two impor­tant things were going on in my life. I had just giv­en birth to my first son and as a result I had recon­nect­ed with my father after sev­er­al years of estrangement.

The lat­ter seemed like the right thing to do until I remem­bered how my father, who had once been the Emper­or in my life, made me feel… 

These two events were caus­ing an inter­nal con­flict which resem­bled the Mid­dle East.

We’d been back in touch for a year but only by phone, and already I degressed to being the angry, tox­ic, self loathing daugh­ter, while hav­ing trou­ble embrac­ing my new role as an empow­ered nur­tur­ing euphor­ic moth­er. The two oppos­ing roles seemed incom­pat­i­ble most­ly because the new moth­er in me was being bull­dozed by the much more expe­ri­enced aggres­sive daugh­ter in me.

As the daugh­ter I was stuck, des­per­ate for my father’s approval, as though it were nec­es­sary in order to progress to the role of moth­er. And though it was obvi­ous to my ther­a­pist, the daugh­ter in me was unable to accept that per­haps my father was inca­pable of say­ing the things I need­ed to hear. Both daugh­ter and moth­er were in deep denial.

As is often the case with me, my brain took the steer­ing wheel and I became obsessed with An Impe­r­i­al Mes­sage. While my son slept, I read this sto­ry hun­dreds, if not thou­sands of times. I picked apart every sen­tence as if it were Torah. I had the sto­ry lam­i­nat­ed and car­ried it around with me as I used to car­ry my Tehillim in my reli­gious days. I couldn’t explain my sud­den obses­sion with this sto­ry but I stud­ied every avail­able trans­la­tion as I had once stud­ied Rashi. I even used dic­tio­nar­ies to come up with my own trans­la­tion, know­ing how much author and translator’s inten­tions can differ.

But the core mes­sage was always the same.

The mes­sage ain’t com­ing you twit! I’m paraphrasing.

But it was the last line that real­ly deliv­ered Kafka’s sting­ing slap:
Like a schmuck you’re still wait­ing. Paraphrasing.

It was one of the most dif­fi­cult deci­sions I’d ever face but a few months lat­er, I took asec­ond hia­tus from speak­ing with my father, this time for more than a decade.

Some years lat­er, when estrange­ment from my father was the new nor­mal, I felt com­pelled to illus­trate every sen­tence of Kafka’s sto­ry. The draw­ings were to be exhib­it­ed in Lon­don at a Kaf­ka fes­ti­val and as I assem­bled them to be shipped, I found it iron­ic that I had received The Mes­sage for which I’d wait­ed so long, and that it had reached me loud and clear. Though it may not have come from the Emper­or as I’d hoped it would, it had, in fact, come from a dead man.

Cheers Franz.

Orli Aus­lan­der grew up in Lon­don and worked as a milliner and radio DJ in New York City before devot­ing her­self full-time to cre­at­ing art. Her work has been shown in the US Eng­land and Spain and was recent­ly fea­tured on the Show­time series Hap­py­ish. She is mar­ried to the author Shalom Aus­lan­der and lives with her fam­i­ly in upstate New York.