Translation by Joachim Neugroschel
Date of Publication: 1922
Number of Pages: 132
Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature
Synopsis: “Set in India, Siddhartha is the story of a young Brahmin’s search for ultimate reality after meeting with the Buddha. His quest takes him from a life of decadence to asceticism, through the illusory joys of sensual love with a beautiful courtesan, and of wealth and fame, to the painful struggles with his son and the ultimate wisdom of renunciation.” ~Blurb from back cover
Review: Like many people, I first read Siddhartha in high school as a part of my study of Buddhism and Hinduism. It wasn’t until this second reading that the book made an impression on me. Siddhartha is a young man who spends his life looking for the way to Nirvana. He begins in the forest, living a life of a samana, a wandering ascetic, begging for food and spending his days in meditation. His eventual meeting with the Buddha has an unexpected effect on him: he realizes that teachers cannot really teach him anything. Therefore, it is up to him to find his own way to salvation.
The book is short, and is made up of two parts, before the Buddha, and after the Buddha. Each chapter has a very particular meaning, and the plot is very well contained within. This adds to the story and gives it the feeling of a sacred text. Although most of the minor characters are not well-developed, it is very clear that their very existence is only to help Siddhartha on his journey. Otherwise, they are not important. Each character has something to give Siddhartha, and each adds to his understanding of the world and of himself.
This book will appeal to anyone interested in Eastern religions and philosophies, or to anyone who is themselves a spiritual pilgrim. It is very similar to Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist in its plot and feeling. It’s also easy for even a reader who is not familiar with religious doctrines or language – Hesse does a beautiful job of making the spiritual and philosophical content very clear and easy to understand. However, this does not mean that it has been “dumbed down” in any way. In fact, the writing is intelligent and evocative, and the story is wholly engrossing.