This post is part of the 2016 April A to Z Challenge.
Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha is a classic example of a Bildungsroman.
The development and progression to maturity of the main character, a young Indian man called Siddhartha, is at the centre of this German classic. Finding enlightenment is the most important aspect of the journey the character undertakes in his life, as the novel follows him from a vagabond childhood through what can only be termed a mid-life crisis to his spiritual awakening.
Hesse’s prose is beautiful and poetic, whether you read it in the original German, or in the English translation. For being written by a German, Siddhartha does a wonderful job of bringing the old Indian way of life and the philosophies of Taoism and Buddhism to life.
However, you can have too much of a good thing. Siddhartha’s story follows that of the buddha – who, incidently, was also called Siddhartha. The names are taken from deities and holy people. And those unfamiliar with Eastern lifestyles and disciplines might have trouble keeping the terms apart as Siddhartha encounters brahmins and ascetics, and discusses the Atman, hindu deities, moksha, and samsara.
The German word “Bildung” means education, and this is what Hesse attempts with this novel. To educate about the path of enlightenment. But it comes across as trying too hard. While the story itself is enjoyable enough, the constant life advice does grind on. Some books you read and come away from them, and your whole view of the world has changed. And I am sure this is what Hesse was going for with Siddhartha. But some books, like this one, don’t get the message across between the lines, and become too obvious about it.
Someone in a more spiritual state of mind would probably enjoy Siddhartha, but to me it read like a nice story around an Introduction to Buddhism textbook which was meant to give a basic overview and introduce terms and names to be discussed in further lessons.
My Rating: ♥♥
Author: Hermann Hesse
Publisher: Bantam Books
Release Date: December 1, 1981 (originally published in 1922)