Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Thoughts: Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

I had been eyeing Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha for quite a while. Every time I went to the classics section of our local bookstore, a copy was always there. Once in a while, they had to restock Austen and Hemingway popped up occasionally. For some reason, Faulkner has never made an appearance. But Siddhartha has ALWAYS been there. I thought it was too expensive for such a thin book, so, when I saw a secondhand copy for ten pesos, I immediately bought it.

Here is the summary from Goodreads: Born son of a Brahmin, Siddhartha was blessed in appearance, intelligence & charisma. In order to find meaning in life, he discarded his promising future for the life of a wandering ascetic. Still, true happiness evaded him. Then a life of pleasure & titillation merely eroded away his spiritual gains until he was just like all the other "child people," dragged around by his desires.

Where do I even begin talking about Siddhartha? This post is probably going to be very short, because I’m coming clean. Right here, right now. I did not understand the book at all. Sometimes, I felt like I did, but I was never sure, ya know? It felt like the book’s true meaning was within reach, but it always escaped my grasp. Once again, I’m going to say that perhaps I would’ve understood more with an annotated edition.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not dissing the book, since I know it’s supposed to be meaningful and a significant commentary on the HUMAN EXPERIENCE, but, dude, where was the story? I’m the type of reader who reads for entertainment, and, if I learn something along the way, that’s fabulous. But Siddhartha wasn’t a story. It was a treatise on religion (I’m not even sure about this) and living wrapped in a thin piece of tissue paper known as story.

This is one of those books I hope to reread someday, when I’m older and hopefully a little more mature. Who knows? I might like it more next time. Like it? Who am I kidding? The best I can hope for is that I might understand it.

Rating: 3/5


mooderino said...

I don't think enlightenment can really be experienced secondhand, it's a bit like reading about a man eating a fantastic meal because you feel hungry.

So it only really makes sense if you've had similar experiences already, and is kind of mystifying to those who haven't.

Generally these sorts of books (The Razor's Edge is another one, and The Alchemist) end up feeling like you already know what their suggesting (probably because since they were published the ideas have been widely disseminated in the culture), and it's never quite as straightforward as they make out.

Good to read when you have hit rock bottom though.

Moody Writing

Zibilee said...

The only book I have read by Hesse was called Narcissus and Goldmund, and it was terrible! It was all about living spiritually versus living sensually, and that message was just beaten over the head of the reader. One character, the monk, was the spiritual character, and his sections revolved around him telling the reader how to live spiritually, and how wonderful it was. The other character was the sensualist, and it was his job to entice the reader to live lustfully. It was horrible! I gave up after 200 pages and threw it against the wall. I don't think I will ever read Hesse again.

Allie said...

I read this one a couple months ago, and I felt the exact same way. I just didn't get it and I really struggled to finish it. I have another Hesse on my shelf and I am a little nervous about it!

Shelley said...

I agree with mooderino above that the ideas in these types of books have become so much a part of our culture that they don't have the same impact as when they were published. I'm often left thinking, "What's the big deal? I already knew that!"
I was pretty unmoved when I read Siddhartha, and I'm kinda old...

Matt said...

Hmmm... It's actually a great book. I read it when I was a teenager, and I still reread it from time to time.

But mooderino is right: a person must have some sort of experience of what Hesse is talking about in his books to make sense of it. Or at least must be on some kind of a spiritual search to have an inkling on he's talking about.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not implying that I'm an advanced spiritual person. I'm definitely not!

What probably helped me make sense of his books was my interest in religion and spirituality. I have to admit that I've been fascinated by religion and spirituality since I was a teenager. It has helped me a lot in my search for meaning and purpose in life especially when I was down and out.


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