Book Report: Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (1951, ?)

Book coverThe second of the books I bought last weekend is a bit deeper than the first (Mother Goose in the Ozarks). I think this counts as Literature, ainna? Hesse won the Nobel Prize for literature, so all signs indicate yes.

The book covers the journey of an Indian? Nepalese? son of nobility who wants wisdom, so he leaves his family and joins a group of ascetics with a friend. When the ascetics encounter the Buddha–the Siddhartha of the title is not, as it turns out, that guy–the friend joins the Buddhist movement, and Siddhartha goes to town where he encounters a courtesan whose beauty is described in detail and I can only assume foretold Morena Baccarin (who played a courtesan/companion in Firefuly, do I have to inline cite my allusions? Yes, if I want to stay out of trouble with my beautiful wife who might wonder why I brought Morena Baccarin into this discussion out of nowhere). Siddhartha wants her to teach him of love, but she points out that she likes nice things and he’s an ascetic, so he becomes a merchant, dissipates a bit, and then tires of that life and becomes a ferry man where, by listening to the river, he becomes wise. The courtesan becomes a Buddhist, and as she is traveling to pay her respects to the dying Buddha, she comes to the river but dies, leaving Siddhartha with the charge of his son Siddhartha. The willful, formerly pampered boy rankles under his father’s simple lifestyle and runs away. The title Siddartha thinks of searching for him but lets him go.

So I did read it, and I remember the plot better than I do the plots of most Executioner novels I read, certainly.

At any rate, it reads a little like an Existentialist novel in reverse (see The Fall for example.) The narrator comes from a position of comfort but has a bit of mental disquiet as he hungers for wisdom pursuing knowledge. A series of events occur leading him to question everything, and he finds peace. Existentialist novels start from a sense of peace where things shatter that peace and lead to a new understanding. Or maybe it’s exactly like an Existentialist novel. I certainly put it in the genre as I read it, but the Wikipedia entry argues that it’s really a Buddist novel.

Or perhaps they’re very close to one another, Buddhism and Existentialism.

No, that’s not it. In this book, Siddhartha has been taught that reality is an illusion, and he learns instead about the unity of all. In Sartre’s Nausea, the protagonist learns that reality is an illusion. So, yes, backwards.

At any rate, a quick and engaging read. The volume I have does not say who the translator is, but the prose is very lyrical, with lots of prepositional phrases. Which, sadly, is how I’ve found myself writing these days. And I don’t have a translator to credit or blame for it.

So perhaps I’ll find Steppenwolf somehwere and pick it up, too.

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