Herman Hesse is either spiritually enlightened or he’s the most convincing fake I’ve ever seen. Read Siddhartha and decide for yourself if it has the answers you’re looking for.
Herman Hesse is a glasses-wearing Swiss German Poet Painter and Writer of books with odd names such as Steppenwolf and Siddhartha. And while we’re adding labels, Hesse is also guilty of winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, something I only discovered as I write this two months after reading one of his best-known works: Siddhartha (written originally in German, translated by a Susan).
Ah Siddhartha, how you’ve played on my mind. Two months after reading it and I’ve deduced this much: either it’s absolute bullshit or it’s one of the most striking works of literature I’ve ever read. Which it is, I have yet to decide but I’ve been unable to stop thinking about it and I keep telling others to read it. Like you, the one reading this right now: go read it.
But enough of that, let’s talk about the book: Siddhartha is the story of a young man named Siddhartha, born into the spiritualistic Brahmin tribe of India. Those Indians hey? A bright and intelligent boy, Siddhartha is groomed towards becoming the village’s next religious leader… until he announces one day that he’s leaving the village to find spiritual salvation elsewhere (His people aren’t pleased). He leaves home, joins a band of ascetic possessionless monks and travels the land in search of truth and meaning. The story is so short that describing the plot further would ruin it. But let me say that it chronicles Siddhartha’s journey through life.
It’s a story of life and loss, of love and lament, of learning and something else beginning with an ‘L’. And in 120 pages there are people, places, conundrums, ways of life and plenty of food for thought. But will it make you think? And does Siddhartha find what he’s looking for? Well it depends on what you’re looking for; and how you’re going about looking for it.
To me Siddhartha’s pages are filled with intellectual courage and of gradual understanding. We see Siddhartha through all walks of life as he lives, learns and grows and I’d like to think that Herman Hesse is at least partially genuine in his understanding; but I’m sure that there many who’ll conclude the book with the notion that it’s faux-mystical hogwash. And they might even be right (Heck I’m still wondering that). Either way, it’s something to meditate on and the book presents an opportunity to learn.
On the technical side, Susan Bernofsky’s translation is wonderful: the language has a mystical purity to it and it reads without the slightest hitch or footnote. The chapters are short but involving and the tone is pensive without falling into that mire often called ‘whimsical’. ‘You’ll enjoy it’, is what I’m trying to say; the language is no barrier.
In conclusion, Herman Hesse is either spiritually enlightened or he’s the most convincing fake I’ve ever seen. Read Siddhartha and decide for yourself if it has the answers you’re looking for.