Review: Siddhartha

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This short work by German / Swiss author and nobel literature prizewinner, Herman Hesse, was a cornerstone of the hippy movement which emerged during the 1960s. The book explores the journey of a young Indian man through an adventurous life, in which his main quest is to achieve enlightenment. He leaves home, becomes an ascetic and then meets the Buddha (Gotama), before rejecting asceticism and turning to the material world, seeking the pleasures of lust, wealth and gambling. He fathers a child with his lover and then departs off to seek pastures new, depressed and fed up of his life in the city. He finds a middle way between the asceticism of his youth and the high life of his merchanting. As a ferryman, next to the river, he lives with a wise old sage who comforts him and allows him to finally achieve the enlightenment he seeks. His son disowns him and his old friend, who becomes a follower of the Buddha, periodically bumps into him and eventually the story concludes with the two old men sharing views on life and what they have learnt, with Siddharta revealing some of the deep philosophies which have shaped him. It’s an exciting and eminently readable tale, full of Buddhist and Eastern mystical titbits that the reader can relate to and indeed be enlightened by. I can see why hippies favoured this novel and it really can be classed as a true twentieth century classic.

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