Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse

My Copy: 9781593083793 (image from bn.com)

My stepdad actually recommended this one to me. Safe to say, he probably last read it long before he married my mother, because of the Hindu and Buddhist elements in the story.

Siddhartha is a story that is kind of a re-telling of the story of the Buddha. The man’s name even is the same as Buddha’s original name, and that was on purpose. It seems Hesse wanted to tell the story of seeking enlightenment and an incredible journey within without having to bog himself down with too many factual details.

That doesn’t detract, by the way. If anything, it’s got a setup similar to Ben-Hur, a tale of a man parallel to the historical figure of the time. I like the idea, it grew on me.

Siddhartha is a wealthy man who is a prince of his people, but is restless and leaves his father’s house, never to return with his friend Govinda. They travel together and live the life of wanderers, hoping to gain wisdom, spirituality, and peace. They actually meet the Buddha and speak with him, which leads to more choices Siddhartha makes, new paths that make him rise, fall, and rise again in his quest for enlightenment.

The book is a series of events, of chunks of Siddhartha’s life and what he’d found. The chapters are very long, but full of all kinds of details you just want to go through and find the natural stopping point before the next chapter starts. I wavered in how much I liked the story at first, because the style was so different. This new translation by Rika Lesser seems better at getting Hesse’s original nuances, according to some people I’ve read who’ve read this before.

I don’t have much knowledge of and background in Hinduism or Buddhism, really. I always seem to be stopped from reading further because of circumstances. But I don’t think you have to have a firm grasp of either to follow the story. I was worried that I would need that basis, but if you’re really wanting to get it, the endnotes help you understand what the words are describing and other important elements.

Siddhartha is a slower read than I thought it would be, because I wanted to let the words put the images in my head. Some of the scenarios make you want to scratch your head and wonder how a person can keep calm or be laughing at certain moments, but that’s where the imagination comes into play.

For a great Eastern story, told by a Westerner with respect for the culture, Siddhartha is worth a look. And no, I don’t think you have to drop acid to get the gist of it, though professors and other writers seemed to enjoy doing that while they read Hesse’s works in the 1960’s… sheesh.

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