Book Review: Michael Kohlhaas by Heinrich von Kleist

[I decided that the feelings this novella stirred up in me required unfiltered language. So, caveat lector.]

This novella was a bit of a barn burner. Literally. The second of two books by in Melville’s novella series, I really felt a kinship with Michael Kohlhaas, the eponymous protagonist. Upstanding citizen Kohlhaas is scammed by a prick of a landowner whose servant is allowed to unfairly confiscate his horses. When Kohlhaas applies for judicial relief, he finds out that the prick landowner is seemingly related to everyone and they dismiss Kohlaas’ suit out of hand. Thoroughly frustrated by the situation and by a personal tragedy brought on by the situation, Kohlhaas goes on an ape-shit crazy, but righteous, arson-ous, murderous, rampage against anyone who tries to protect the prick landowner. It turns into a bit of a populist uprising that feels like the start of a revolution.

Even Martin Luther gets involved, beseeching Kohlhaas to cease his rampage. Now, I don’t condone violence in any form. But I could really identify with Kohlhaas’ frustration and rage. Part of my OCD issues center around my need for everyone to play fair and by the same rules. So when the upstanding Kohlhaas keeps getting screwed by unjust rule breakers it didn’t take me long to sympathize with what the poor man was going through.

The Verdict: Despite the sad ending and the violence (which I don’t condone), I loved how this book expressed Kohlhaas’ rage. In his own words: “You can make me go to the scaffold, but I can make you suffer, and I mean to.”

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Michael Kohlhaas by Heinrich von Kleist

  1. winstonsdad August 30, 2011 / 8:26 am

    I like this story I read it earlier this year in a collection of his work strange it still works after all the time that has passed and how little certain types of people have changed ,all the best stu


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