Eighty eight years before standing on a beach staring at the sea with Haruki Murakami, Franz Kafka went to the tropics.
Being such a hermit crab, he stayed out of the tourist routes, taking a boat for docking in a muggy island and visiting a charming Penal Colony. Does it sound too heavy? Well, in case you didn't noticed, not everybody likes spending holidays drinking cold beer while swinging on a hammock giving a look to suntanned beauties all day long.
Do you really think that a pale and overstressed insurance agent would have written such a great short story while renting a bungalow in a Club Méditerranée resort? Then you shouldn't read any Kafka.
Being known on his papers as "der Forschungsreisender", Franz K. visited local landmarks of the detention island such as the Wharf, the Tea House and the infamous Torture Device. There, a Welcome Committee formed by The Officer, The Soldier and The Condemned tried to show him an old and folkloristic, although extreme, tattoo technique that was still quite popular in the Penal Colony. And so it goes...
In my modest opinion, this short story stands at the zenit of Kafka's production. Yet, being not fond of Club Med myself too, maybe I'm not that fair-minded in appreciating "The Penal Colony".
Still, I consider these pages at the same time grisly and inspiring, definitely worth reading and rewarding.
In my (Italian) edition of the collection there are many other brighting gems. The first one coming to my mind is "The Country Doctor" where Kafka follows in his own way the wake of Russian masters like Gogol', Turgenev and Bulgakov, evoking with a richful immagination the evil and dark forces ruling over superstition and impeding science and human logic. If I were a tree I would be proud of being sacrificed by some Torture Device for hosting on my skin one of these short stories.