…and here to fulfil a New Years Resolution of 2011! – To create a forum where I can muse and ponder to my heart’s content about certainly one of my primary passions in life; the world of literature. A list simply won’t cut it any longer. I need a place to conduct the kind of discussion (whether with myself or perhaps one day with one or two other book lovers!) that would eventually drive away hapless friends and acquaintances in droves.
I have however, it seems, entered into 2011 with renewed strength and vigour, and, although I usually simply let my hand guide me, mostly at random, in amongst my huge TBR pile for my latest offering, it seemed right to make a more calculated decision regarding the first book of the year, one that would hopefully be a reflection of the year to come….
Siddartha by German/Russian born novelist Hermann Hesse was, I felt, exactly the right place to start. An undeniable classic that I bought my Dad for his birthday earlier last year and, rather strangely as I almost always succumb when buying gifts (particularly books) for other people, did not buy for myself at the same time. Happily, my parents, who always hit the nail on the head when it comes to reading material, bought this for me for Christmas – along with Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje and a wonderful (I think first edition though I will have to check) book called In Troubadour Land which takes me right back to my medieval French days at university.
Through a keen desire to understand the meaning of life, Siddartha’s spiritual journey takes him down many roads; from his life as a young Brahman (holy man) to a wandering ‘Samana’, to the worldly life of love and wealth as a merchant in the city, and eventually, as the companion of an old, wise Ferryman who helps him down the final road on the way to enlightenment and a true sense of ‘oneness’ with the world surrounding him.
I thought this was a wonderful book, though I think you have to enter into it in the right spirit. There is no point picking this up expecting a story with a conventional beginning, middle and end. This is, essentially, the tale of one man’s lengthy reflection on the meaning of life and his search for ‘completeness’; something which Hesse himself apparently explored whilst writing the book, delving into both Hindu and Buddhist teachings to do so. The Buddha himself appears on Siddartha’s road to enlightenment and serves, as the other key characters do (such as his loyal companion Govinda and lover Kamala) to explore and introduce spiritual ideas and arguments that characterise Siddartha’s inner struggle. By the end of his life he has found the peace and the meaning he has been looking for in the depths of the river that he both lives and works on.
Although Siddartha turns away from the Buddha and his followers to seek his own path in the book, the tale is infused with Buddhist teachings and attitudes towards life. I have a great deal of respect for and interest in Buddhism and its teachings, particularly nature and what it can teach us about life, represented here by the great river that Siddartha learns to listen to in order to quiet his mind and establish meaning within his life. My only criticism would be a slight question in my mind as to the complete accuracy of the translation. This has been translated from the German (the fact that this was originally written in German is still not a concept I can get my head around for some reason – perhaps this is proof of the authenticity of Hesse’s story and understanding of the belief systems in place in that part of the world) As a former languages student I can at times be more sensitive to the nuances of translation and at times, but I stress only at times, something seemed a little ‘off’ in the turn of phrase used. Although this didn’t take away from the important ideas and attitudes towards life that the book leaves you with, it did make me do a double take on certain sentences. I have read a few reviews on the internet and dodgy translations seem to be the over-arching criticism of the several different editions of this book, perhaps something to consider if looking to get a copy for yourself.
That aside, this was a wonderful way to start things off, the perfect book to calm the mind for another busy year ……