ISBN 978-1-940400-08-2 | Fiction | $14.00 | New York: Ellipsis Press
publication date: February 2017
Who is Kafka-san? Is he a digitally remastered hologram of the famous writer? No one is quite sure, least of all K, a Nisei woman hired to be Kafka-san’s interpreter and chauffeur through millennial Los Angeles. In resplendent, incandescent prose, Karen An-hwei Lee fashions this short, strange trip out of a mind meld between the Czech fabulist of bureaucracies and a sun-hammered late-empire sprawl.
Gratitude: For Eugene Lim, editor extraordinaire.
Don’t despair, not even over the fact that you don’t despair.
– Franz Kafka
We do not see things are they are. We see them as we are.
– The Talmud
You can live as if nothing is a miracle,
or you can live as if everything is a miracle.
– Albert Einstein
Praise for Sonata in K
What writer doesn’t pledge allegiance to Kafka? That’s why it’s astonishing when a writer comes along and actually makes Franz new, as does Karen An-hwei Lee, through her effervescent playfulness, richness of imagination, musicality, her endlessly inventive polyglot sensibility. Lee resides intimately in the space between languages, geographies, and temporalities as she pays homage to the master, as well as homage to the act of writing, of translation, of reading. The verbal and the sensual are fused under her supple pen, and you will marvel at her capacity to animate words, releasing them from habit and predictability into buoyancy.
—Mary Caponegro, author of The Star Café and Tales from the Next Village
Karen An-hwei Lee has produced, in elegant prose and lyric epistle, a sensorium whose richness renders appetite absurd, a roux of epicurean sensations reduced, like words on a menu, to signs and vocables. Hers is a world once removed, both familiar and exotic, like Kafka’s own fabulist universe, in which America is Amerika and Kafka is K (or perhaps not). In Lee’s elegant satiric thrust through the belly of a subtle, dangerous consumerism of language and personality, facsimiles pass for originals, time is no longer absolute, celebrity holograms have become more desirable than the individuals they represent, and Kafka is “Kafkaesque” – that is, a commodity. I heed Lee’s voice for the alarm it sounds in advance of a catastrophe as real and troubling as the San Andreas Fault and hail it for the beauty and, sometimes, comedy of its cool engagement with a “dioxide-tainted universe of nanoparticles in a roaring aquarium of steel-tentacled, inglorious ambition.” Lee has written a Waste Land for our time, whose symbolic epicenter is Los Angeles; her novella is, at once, a present dystopia and an uncanny invocation of Kafka, serving time in a penal colony where consumption and its proliferating glossaries have gone mad.
—Norman Lock, author of The History of Imagination and Love Among the ParticlesReviewsIn Karen An-hwei Lee’s sun-soaked fantasia “Sonata in K” (Ellipsis Press, 143 pages, $14) , Franz Kafka has been reanimated as a hologram by Hollywood producers who want him to advise on a film adaptation. Thus he finds himself visiting the boulevards and health food cafes of Los Angeles under the care of a Japanese-American interpreter and cicerone who calls him Kafka-san and herself goes by the Kafkaesque moniker K. The film consultations go poorly, as Kafka-san is at a loss to understand why the script is about a rhinoceros. K suggests that the studio bigs may have confused him with Eugene Ionesco. Yet despite the manifold bizarreries of lotus-eating Los Angeles—“a metropolis of unheimlich sprawl into perpetual drought”—he finds the city restorative. Ms. Lee, a poet, encapsulates his reflections with exquisite delicacy and grace. Talk of used bookstores brings to mind “the toasted melancholy of aged paper.” A flock of birds pass overhead like “etudes of light.” Even the smog, coating the skyline “with a palimpsest of schmutz,” is worthy of eulogy.—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal