64 of 64 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2006
Beautifully translated, evoking the majesty in the simple story of a man in his lifelong journey towards the attainment of Enlightenment. Melodic in its tone but true to the original German Susan Bernofsky's translation has set a new standard among the various English translations currently available. As many times as I have read and enjoyed Siddhartha over the years (about 10 or so readings) never have I enjoyed a translation as much as Ms. Bernofsky's - a truly remarkable effort.
161 of 171 people found the following review helpful
Siddhartha is that most unusual of all stories -- one that follows a character throughout most of his life . . . and describes that life in terms of a spiritual journey. For those who are ready to think about what their spiritual journey can be, Siddhartha will be a revelation. For those who are not yet looking for "enlightenment," the book will seem pecular, odd, and out-of-joint. That's because Hesse was presenting a mystery story, also, for each reader to solve for herself or himself. The mystery is simply to unravel the meaning of life.
As the son of a Brahmin, Siddhartha would naturally have enjoyed access to all of the finest lessons and things of life. Knowing of his natural superiority in many ways, he becomes disenchanted with teachers and his companions. In a burst of independence, he insists on being allowed to leave home to become a wandering Shramana (or Samana, depending on which translation you read). After three years or so, he tires of this as well. Near the end of that part of his life, Siddharta meets Gotama, the Buddha, and admires him greatly. But Siddharta continues to feel that teachers cannot convey the wisdom of what they know. Words are too fragile a vessel for that purpose. He sees a beautiful courtesan and asks her to teach him about love. Thus, Siddhartha begins his third quest for meaning by embracing the ordinary life that most people experience. Eventually, disgusted by this (and he does behave disgustingly), he tires of life. Then, he suddenly reconnects with the Universe, and decides to become a ferryman and learn from the river. In this fourth stage of his life, he comes to develop the wisdom to match the knowledge that direct experiences of the "good" and the "sensual" life have provided to him.
Few will find Siddhartha to be an attractive character until near the end of the book. Hesse is trying to portray his path towards balance and understanding by emphasizing Siddhartha's weaknesses and errors. But, these are mostly errors that all people fall into. Hesse wants us to see that we make too much of any given moment or event. The "all" in a timeless sense is what we should seek for.
There is a wonderful description of what a rock is near the end of the book that is well worth reading, even if you get nothing out of the rest of the story. The "mystery" of what Gotima experiences when he kisses Siddhartha's forehead will provide many interesting questions for each reader to consider.
I recommend that you both listen to this book on tape and read it. Hesse's approach to learning is for us to observe and feel. You will do more of that while listening than by simply reading. I was able to find an unabridged audio tape in our library for my listening. I encourage you to go with an unabridged tape as well. You will get more out of Siddhartha that way. I read the Hilda Rosner translation, and liked it very much.
After you finish listening to and reading the book, I suggest that you think about what you have not yet experienced that would help you get a better sense of life. If you have tried to be a secular person, you could try being a spiritual one. If you have focused on being a parent, you could focus on being a sibling. If you have focused on making money, you could pay attention to giving away your time. And so on. But in each case, give yourself more opportunities to experience and learn from nature. That is Hesse's real message here.
167 of 178 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Set in India, Siddhartha is subtitled an "Indic Poetic Work" and clearly it does owe much to both Buddhism and Hinduism, however the philosophy embodied in Siddhartha is both unique and quite complex, despite the lyrically beautiful simplicity of the plot.
Siddhartha is one of the names of the historical Gautama and while the life of Hesse's character resembles that of his historical counterpart to some extent, Siddhartha is by no means a fictional life of Buddha and his teachings.
Siddhartha is divided into two parts of four and eight chapters, something some have interpreted as an illustration of Buddhism's Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path to Enlightenment.
Elements of Hinduism can also be found in Siddhartha. Some critics maintain that Hesse was influenced largely by the Bhagavad Gita when he wrote the book and that his protagonist was groping his way along a path outlined in that text. Certainly the central problems of Siddhartha and the Gita are similar: how can the protagonist attain a state of happiness and serenity by means of a long and arduous path?
Hesse's protagonist, however, seeks his own personal path to fulfillment, not someone else's. It is one of trial and error and he is only subconsciously aware of its nature. Although many see Siddhartha's quest as embodying the ideals of Buddhism, Siddhartha objects to the negative aspects of Gautama's teaching. He rejects Gautama's model for himself and he rejects Buddhism; Siddhartha insists upon the right to choose his own path to fulfillment.
The primary theme of Siddhartha is the individual's difficult and lonely search for self-fulfillment. Both the means used by the hero in his quest and the nature of his fulfillment are of prime importance and reflect recurring themes that thread their way through all of Hesse's work.
Although Siddhartha listens with great respect to the words of Buddha and does not reject Buddhism as being right for others, he, himself, does not become Buddha's disciple, but decides to pursue his goal through his own effort, not by following a teacher. As in Demian, Nietzsche's influence is apparent; the reader is strongly reminded of Nietzsche's Zarathustra who exhorts his listeners not to follow him, but to excel themselves.
Siddhartha's sense of fulfillment is a mystical one and cannot be defined with precision. In this respect, it resembles the Nirvana of Buddhism. The most important aspect of Siddhartha's growing awareness, however, is an unselfish and undirected love.
The division of the world into the two opposing poles of masculine and feminine is another common theme in Hesse's writings. The Father World, or masculine, is dominated by the intellect, reason, spirit, stability and discipline; the Mother Word, or feminine, by emotion, love, fertility, birth, death, fluidity, nature and the senses.
While this symbolism is more pronounced in other works, such as Demian and The Glass Bead Game, it is also present and consistently developed in Siddhartha.
Siddhartha's position vis-a-vis the two worlds changes during the course of the novel. At times, he seems to embrace one world more than the other; at other times he unites the virtues of each.
Two symbolic elements thread their way through Siddhartha; that of the river and that of a smile. Suggestive of fluidity as well as the paradoxical union of permanence and flux, the river is an age-old symbol of eternity and spiritual communion.
A second important symbol in Siddhartha is that of the smile. The characters in the story who attain a final state of complete serenity are each characterized by a beautiful smile reflecting a peaceful and harmonious state of being.
Each of these symbols is associated with Siddhartha at key junctures in his quest.
Siddhartha is written in an extremely simple style, in keeping with the inherent simplicity of the plot, theme and general tone of the book. The syntax is uncomplicated and except for a few technical terms from Indian philosophy, the vocabulary is straightforward. Frequent use is made of leitmotifs, parallelism and repetition and, in the original German, the language is rhythmic and lyrical, reminiscent of a poetic religious text with a definite meditative quality.
Siddhartha is told by an omniscient third person narrator with frequent direct and indirect quotations of the words and thoughts of various characters, especially Siddhartha. The narrator, almost invariably, looks at things from Siddhartha's perspective, and even when other characters are discussed or quoted, it is always to shed light on Siddhartha, himself.
A mystical and lyrical book, Siddhartha is a beautiful story of a truly personal quest towards the self-fulfillment we all must strive to attain.
57 of 59 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 2009
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
The layout and cover are beautifully done. Hesse's book is a masterpiece. The translation also has a kind of poetry that I suspect is close to the German, however there are a fair number grammatical errors or typos in this edition - it seems they used spell check so the typos aren't obvious, but I can't go more than a few paragraphs without having to read a sentence a few times to figure out which word was left out or spell-checked into the wrong word. 'Learned' becomes 'Leaned', 'that' becomes 'That', 'ice' becomes 'icy', 'breaths' becomes 'breathes', commas break sentences in ways that unintentionally change meaning, etc... These are just some examples from a few pages chosen at random. This problem is consistent throughout the book. There is even an instance where a question left by the translator, in German, is sitting IN THE TEXT in a sentence, which is just absurd.
124 of 138 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I don't think I read the novel in this translation, but am sure that does not matter overly. Hesse does write quite excellently, I am sure, but the impression left to me from this book, which I read in one morning in the summer, have sunk deeper than the words.
In some ways, it is similar to Voltaire's Candide, another story of truth being sought by a youth. The great difference is in the nature of the quest - whereas Candide is a simple child of the world, forced to mature through the cynical experiences of life, Siddhartha embraces suffering and learning in an active and uncynical attempt to find wisdom. His greatest discovery is that you cannot just "find" it.
This is a novel that can serve as a metaphor for all and everything. As a novel it is simple and beautiful; as a metaphor, it is important, as important as any other that exist in religion or spiritualism. Hesse writes openly and without prejudice - Hindus have no quarrel with Buddhists here. Here is a quick dose of fresh thought for anyone with a bit of time. I notice the trend of "little books of wisdom" is starting to wane...thank goodness - reach for something more substantial, right here.
31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on August 30, 2006
When I came upon a new translation of Siddhartha by the revered Susan Bernofsky, I was drawn to revisit this book from thirty years ago. Like many teens of the early seventies, I was affected deeply by Siddhartha. It offered me a way to find and embrace spirituality--spirituality that was more aligned with the Beatles, the anti-war movement, and my own peer culture than was my childhood Episcopalian upbringing. This new volume didn't disappoint. Bernofsky, whose translations I've long admired, pays careful attention to Hesse's musical prose and lyricism. The simple messages and Siddhartha's adventures were even more delightful that I remembered. This is a much more beautifully rendered version than the one I read in my youth. Bernofsky's mastery of German coupled with her understanding of and faithfulness to Hesse's pure and rather innocent lessons make this a refreshing read, like dipping one's feet into a cool brook on an August day. I'm glad I revisited this old friend. Siddhartha has stood the test of time. Bravo to Bernofsky, as well.
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on September 11, 2009
A friend and I agreed to re-read Siddhartha. Quite fortuitously this was the edition we chose. Either the book has been stripped of all inelegance in this translation, revealing its poetic and timeless beauty, or we have finally caught up to Hesse's grace and wisdom. I suspect it is more of the former.
Yet, in the translation lies something very structural about the book and its themes. There is a kind of inevitability of the tale that seemed to be missing in earlier versions. It flows just as we, at some unconscious level, imagine it should unfold. Siddhartha's challenges to himself and the people who surround him form a profound framing of his life's quest. It is his acceptance of the results of this quest, and the tone of the revelation of it in this text that flows much more like poetry than in prior versions. One senses that this is the tale Hesse meant to tell, and the feeling he wanted to impart. It is a simple tale of the Jungian completion of the self, but told as a tone poem, a lullaby, a prayer, a myth, a celebration, and ultimately, as a wonder.
The major characters of the book - Govinda, Kamala, Buddha, the boatman, and Siddhartha's son - all play their parts at various points in the tale, but the boatman and the river itself take Siddhartha the farthest. Siddhartha's skepticism of dogma and doctrine (of the Buddha, of Govinda, of the world of business) drives him to find his own way, but it is not until he has been satiated with both the "spiritual" and the material world, and been tortured by the indifference of his son that he comes back to the river and the boatman to find his ultimate way and true peace. It is at once the individual and the universal peace of "solving" oneself - of the self and the Atman united in a very lyrical playing out of the inner theme common to us all. When philosophy becomes art, and when that art becomes mythic poetry, one is in the presence of something truly transformative. That is the sense that this version of the story conveys.
Good for Modern Library for coming out with Susan Bernofsky's translation. It is a new book in many respects, but one that is now being sold as what it will rightfully become - a great world classic in English as well as German.
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on January 7, 2005
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Siddhartha is an excellent novel for the post 9/11 world. No, I'm not prescribing a "Buddhist" religion to Muslims or Christians; this is because the novel Siddhartha does not prescribe any religion or doctrine. Neither does it really tell you how to be happy or spiritually enlightened; the novel simply deals with the fact that enlightenment is subjective from person to person. What made Siddhartha enlightened in the novel, did not make Gotama, the other Buddha enlightened. But the saintly thing about the character Siddhartha, is he did not judge Gotama for his spiritual differences or try to convert others to any doctrine.
The prose in the novel is simple, yet lush, descriptive and profound, making it a short satisfying read, which should be taken in slowly, rather than rushing through where you might miss important words.
In Siddhartha, a young Brahmins son, leaves a comfortable life when early in the novel he joins the Samanas, a group of wandering ascetics, practicing self denial. In Siddartha's journey he begins to distrust doctrines because they brought knowllege, but no wisdom, no peace or enlightenment. He leaves the Samanas and began a life which many would call "sinful" until he changes his lifestyle again.
But the way Siddhartha by Herman Hesse is different than other religious books, is that the character Siddhartha has "to sin in order to live again." The fact is that everyone is a sinner. There is no way to not be a sinner, and Siddhartha has to have the "experience" of what is sin, to know what is moral and right. Many religious books simply tell you how to live, this novel doesn't. Please do not read it as an introduction to Buddhism, or something you can read and immediately achieve salvation, it's simply a work of art that shows spiritual freedom in the path one takes.
The message I received from the novel was that life is too complex to prescribe a way of salvation that works for everyone. As Hesse says, "Wisdom is not communicable" and the book doesn't communicate wisdom universally, because no one can. In this fanatical world, religions might not clash so much if they took this into consideration.
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on June 30, 2005
Format: Mass Market PaperbackVerified Purchase
I thought I had life sussed -- I thought I was enlightened already with just a little tweeking necessary -- I secretly thought I was "evolved" and "special". I know the book is just someone's perspective but for me there were many passages that occurred like I knew them but didn't know I knew them.
When I started reading it, I was full of conflicting opinions (with me being right, of course) and it was about half way through that I started to understand the journey of the book - a journey that ended up being my own too. The last half was a greedy read for me with a wonderful sense of well-being encompassing me in the last few pages.
What I got out of it is that one of my longings has been that I can share the knowledge and wisdom I have attained over my 55 years. It is liberating to acknowledge that Who I actually am is ordinary... one of the 'child people' mentioned in the book and not the would-be guru I've set myself up to be to inform people of how wrong they are doing things. I came to that I am content with being ordinary - who I am and where I am ... and life will change like the water of the river depicted in the book .. always there (life) but never the same water and no doubt, I will change with it.
Who I am being about it is that I am setting myself free to just be me .. all that I am and all that I'm not and I know that will be a journey in itself.
I'm really glad I had the opportunity to read the book .. as you can probably tell.
28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 1997
Format: Audio Cassette
I read this book when I was 19. I am now 51. Having just discovered Amazon Books, I was "surfing" and searching out titles that came to memory. I also read the lyrical version in German in those now distant days, and spent much time looking for "Suleika", or "Zuleika". It brought me great peace of mind at that time, as I had to interrupt my college days in order to enter the Army and go to Vietnam. The book reads like the flowing river, and is in some ways an eternal story of search for meaning in life and realization. Like Sidhartha our search for meaning often ends at the beginning. Ultimately, we return to the basic and simple truths that were there when we were born. Growing up is a kind of struggle. Sidhartha is a story of idealism and virtue that survives ignorance, futility and evil. If in the end, we retain that idealism, our lives can be heroic and our conscience pure. Sometimes, I remember and recall the words: "From Sidhartha to Sidhartha is my coming and my going." It is a book of haunting beauty and depth of meaning. W. H. L./Bellevue