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Written at the start of World War I and published in 1925 after its author’s untimely death, Franz Kafka’s “The Trial” is one of those novels everyone knows by reputation (or, in my case, from a fevered reading in high school).

The unequal contest between the beleaguered hero, Josef K., and the shadowy, maze-like judicial system that traps him, came to be viewed as a metaphor for 20th-century totalitarianism, though Kafka’s own frame of reference was the bureaucracies of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which then ruled his native Prague.

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