Siddharta by Herman Hesse

Siddharta2From Goodreads: In the novel, Siddhartha, a young man, leaves his family for a contemplative life, then, restless, discards it for one of the flesh. He conceives a son, but bored and sickened by lust and greed, moves on again. Near despair, Siddhartha comes to a river where he hears a unique sound. This sound signals the true beginning of his life—the beginning of suffering, rejection, peace, and, finally, wisdom.

☺ ☺ ☺

Let me start of by saying that I really like Herman Hesse. I studied his Steppenwolf in school, I spent hours talking about Demian with my girlfriend, and I regularly reread his Fairy Tales. So when this book came up as my Classics Club Spin assignment, I was pretty happy with it. I did not expect it to be a chore to read.

I had such a hard time to get into this book. It is too verbose for my taste. After reading several books with beautiful prose recently, Hesse’s style seemed stilted and unnecessarily wordy. I also didn’t immediately like Siddharta. In my head, I kept hearing another girlfriend, who would have told him flat-out: “Boy, you ain’t gonna get very far with that attitude!” But when I realized that the deadline for the spin was coming up quickly, I forced myself to take up this book and give it some time and the attention it deserves. With that, reading it became a little easier.

The story itself is not very original: a promising young man gets restless at home and goes out into the world to find himself. He follows several teachers, but nothing he gets taught truly speaks to him. He abandons his teachers and slowly, almost unnoticeably, turns into a man ruled by his possessions. After many years, he realizes how unhappy he is and almost commits suicide. Yet he finds something in himself that stops him at the last minute, and he then turns towards a simple life in which he endeavors again to find the meaning of, well, pretty much everything.

Quite frankly, the first two thirds of the book didn’t speak to me very much. I might have enjoyed it more at a different point in my life. With some of the cynicism I have acquired over the years, I was expecting the mess he was making of his life and was only reading along to see how long it would take him to finally realize his mistakes. There wasn’t much empathy involved on my end.

But I have to say that the last third of the book was able to rope me in. At this point, Siddharta struggles with having a meaningful relationship with his son and with finding wisdom. Even the choppy writing didn’t bother me quite as much anymore. The end was satisfying, so I am giving it three smileys, but it is definitely not my favorite book by Hesse.

With this, I have finally read another book from my original Classics Club list…

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3 comments

  1. Der Steppenwolf is the only Hesse novel I have read so I was interested in an English review of another of his works. Sounds as if Siddharta, like Haller, is a tortured hero. Your review is critical without being destructive.

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