The Journey to the East
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48 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on June 1, 2001
In many ways, this book serves as a humble yet profound companion to Siddhartha and the Glass Bead Game (whose dedication reads: "To the Journeyers to the East"). It is another of Hermann Hesse's beautiful tales of searching. The story is that of HH, a member of an apparently long-dissolved League, a League of travelers who traversed space and time to absorb the wisdom, culture, and secrets of the ages to find peace and unity. As HH tries to recount this story, he reaches a great obstacle: the unexplained disappearance of League servant. He cannot go on. The rest of the book shows how HH deals with this encumbrance, only to find out that the truth he has been searching for is simpler than he though, and it is right in front of him.
What insight Hesse had, to be able to see that endless searching can blind us to what we already know, to be able to express the often-neglected value of humility and faithful servitude. Hesse's feel for communal and individual values shines forth in this brilliantly simple story, all of 117 pages.
And so I invite you to read this short tale in the hope that you, too, will find what you are looking for.
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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 2003
This allegorical book is made up of equal parts poetry and prose. On the surface it tells a simple tale of a man who starts on a journey with like minded souls in search of a mystical woman named Fatima. Part way through the journey he loses faith in his fellow travelers and their cause. The rest of the book is about the protagonist's attempt to write about his experience, and to discover the true nature of the league in which he had lost faith.
Almost from the beginning the reader is forced to conclude that neither the league itself, nor the attempt to write about it, can be taken literally. Clearly Hesse wants the league of travelers to the east to be seen in a symbolic light. But what is it meant to represent? Given that this is the author of Siddhartha, one might suppose that the league represents a group of individuals in search of eastern mysticism. Yet the book says little or nothing about Buddhism, Hinduism or Islam. The league could also be taken as an allegory for the community of artists, and though there are numerous references in the book to support this point of view, it seems too shallow an interpretation to explain the entire text. For instance, there are clear and repeated references to religion, usually in a Christian context. These references belie a simple interpretation of the book as being about the life of an artist.
The book also spends considerable time wrestling with the idea of whether or not it is appropriate to attempt to use a novel as means of exorcising one's personal demons, or whether such an undertaking is fundamentally selfish. On the surface, it appears that the author of the book denies the value of using writing as a means of working through a personal problem, and yet on one level the text clearly appears to be an attempt by the author to do exactly that. In this case, I am referring to the struggles for freedom by the fictional author of the text HH, and not to Hesse himself. But once again, it is not clear whether we are meant to take HH as Hermann Hesse or as simply an allegorical figure.
Over and over again, the text leads us up to the door of a seemingly clear allegory or metaphor, only to send us back search of a more satisfying interpretation. In writing this review, I have no intention of trying to resolve any of these paradoxes. Rather, I simply want to draw attention to them. The great joy of this book is that it tells an enjoyable tale that can be interpreted in many different ways. These mysteries at the heart of the text make the book more interesting.
There is, however, one important part of the book that is quite easy to understand. Fearful of spoiling the plot, I will simply point out that the most powerful character in the book is a servant. The idea that the humblest character in the book is also the most important has clear Christian overtones. However, seeing this character simply as a Christ figure is again perhaps too simplistic an interpretation. Certainly that is one viable level of meaning in the text, but the character also seems to represent a general endorsement of humility for both spiritual seekers and artists.
Noting some of the other reviews here, I would like to add that reading this book as a commentary on the Rosicrucians is almost certainly much too simplistic an interpretation. The Journey to the East is a poetic work, and should not be read so literally. Secondly, I want to agree with the reviewer who was surprised to find that Hesse's work was not as jejune or adolescent as he expected. Even in the old editions that we read in the sixties, the text was accompanied on the back by endorsements from Thomas Mann and T. S. Eliot. Hesse lives up to the kudos that he received from his great contemporaries. I believe that Hesse will still be read long after many of our more famous and highly praised contemporary writers are forgotten.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on March 24, 1999
This is a fantastic book, probably the most "mystical" of Hesse's works. Although I enjoyed it immensely, it is thick with references to Hesse's other works, and I can't recommend it as an introduction to his writing. If you've read a lot of Hesse, it may only serve to re-affirm themes from his other books. I however found it rewarding to read as a synthesis of his ideas to that point-- it is more than just a rehashing of old material.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on September 24, 2004
This book is a great read in mysticism and personal journey that portrays the value in subjectivity alone that exists in value of the mystical experience. No other as a guide, or written accounts, or league documents will do. There must be faith in non-verbal, non-linguistic experiential consciousness that outweighs all other means in order to find what one is deep down searching for.

Here Hesse joins a league and journeys to the east in search of an ideal, the beautiful Fatima. In his journey he experiences poetics and symbols that appear greater than the poets and people themselves, something beyond linguistics and explanations, things that cannot be simply written down in books for others to interpret, but rather only with personal experiences can such come about. His feeble attempts to write down in words such explanations of his journey and experience prove entirely futile and so does the vast array of other accounts attempted in such, including all attempts to even describe the league itself. Hesse finds out that only in despair does one continue his journey of experience that eventually learns to disregard the intellectual mind and it's attempt at explanations. Ultimately, it is only the experiential and subjective nature that has any value at all and subsequently, the eventual dissolving of oneself into all others, a unity that brings forth personal experience, mystical awareness: nothing else will suffice. And such a dissolving of the self, Hesse witnessed symbolically in a melting of a self portrait candle figure into a self portrait candle figure of the league's president.

This book is short and an easy read for the avid book reader. If you're ready as an individual, you will understand this message, a beautiful and inspiring message; the profound "isness" in non-linguistic, non-logical subjectivity, the magic, wonder and marvel of simply "being." Babies, that's right, infants, "know," unlike some of the greatest intellectuals and well-read amazon book reviewers. To understand is of course tied up with the individual's own spiritual journey toward the east. A wonderful book.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon November 16, 2002
I have always suspected that this penultimate novel of Hesse's plays upon the myth of the Most Honorable Order of the Rosy Cross in certain German intellectual circles. Even today you can get an arguement, either way, about the existance of the Rosicrucians and Christian Rosencreutz. This is fitting, since even the protagonist (H.H.) is left wondering if the League that sent him forth on his quest really ever existed or if he hallucinated it all.

At the begining H.H. has no doubt what-so-ever in the existance or purpose of the ancient League. He sets forth on the journey to the East with his brother members in pursuit of the Tao, Kundalini, and the other Eastern mysteries. In short, they are seeking union with the divine. Even when some member drops out during the quest and "takes the railroad back" to the mundane world, they simply bid him farewell and continue on, unshaken in their own faith. They travel on through time, myth, poetry, and magic towards their goal.

It is at the gorge of Morbio Inferiore that everthing unravels. It is here that the loyal servant Leo suddenly departs and the expedition falls apart in squabbling over trifles. Morbio Inferiore is the dark night of the soul. It is also the historical cataclysm of WW1. You see, before the Great War Germans could still believe in magic, Mozart, and Goethe, after the war all magic and innocence were dead. All that remained was cynicism, machines, and monsters.

H.H. is suddenly left alone wondering if the League ever really existed or if it was a dream. He searches and searches for the lost servant Leo- only to be surprised at what he eventually finds....

Ultimately we end up at the realization that despair serves a purpose in our own journey through life. For if we are still capable of despair then we must still, deep down, still believe in innocence, virtue, and justice. You cannot deeply mourn what never existed- somewhere, sometime!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 30, 1998
In this book, the master of philosophical fiction tells the tale of a man (initials H.H....) who goes on a wonderful and amazing journey throughout the world, experiencing so many wonderful and fantastic things. When he returns, he finds himself writing about the journey, but comes to a point in his story where he cannot procede.
After an interesting turn in both the contents of the book and the focus, the narrator comes to powerful realizations about himself and the nature of things.
Perhaps the only book I've read that rivals Siddhartha, it is one I will read over and over, and, as always, with this author, I'm sure all readers will find a piece of themselves in this masterpiece.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
HALL OF FAMEon January 2, 2003
"The Journey to the East," by Hermann Hesse, has been translated from German into English by Hilda Rosner. The book is narrated in the first person by a musician who, as a member of a secret society known as "the League," undertook a mystical journey. This book chronicles the narrator's quest to write the story of this pilgrimage.
"Journey" is a very "writerly" text; it's largely about the challenge of representing life experience as a written document. The book also deals with writing as both catharsis and as a burden, and with the larger issue of finding meaning in one's life. The book has touches of fantasy and offers intriguing glimpses at the inner workings of a secret society.
Hesse's prose, as translated by Rosner, has an elegant simplicity and subtle power. Recommended as companion texts: "The Guys," by Anne Nelson (also about the catharsis and burden of writing); and "The Sun at Night," by Roger Williamson (also deals with a secret mystical society).
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 1999
I came to this book through Tom Wolfe, who quoted from it at length in his book, "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test". Wolfe drew many parallels between Ken Kesey leading his Merry Pranksters on great adventures throughout America and Hesse's fictional travels in Asia. In both situations the leadership principle was the same: so long as a charismatic individual is leading the travels the time spent together is seen as a wonderful crusade. When the charismatic individual leaves, the travelers begin to quarrel and the fun ends. Both books provide very interesting insights into human nature.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on April 20, 2006
The Bundesroman is German for the lodge or "league novel", a style popularized in the later half of the 18th century when secret orders such as the Masons were emerging in response to an uninvigorating status quo. These secret societies influenced the writings of authors such as Goethe, Hoffmann, and Holderline - all favorites of Hesse. The common theme is a secret society with a hieracrchy of orders similar to the Rosicrucians. There is a Superior who represents the spiritual ideals of the order whose seat is in some mysterious castle or building with archives and secret chambers. A more lengthy description of this type of novel as it related to Journey to the East can be found in Theodore Ziolkowski's insightful study of Hesse, "The Novels of Hermann Hesse" (Princeton University Press, 1965).

Basically, I have hard time thinking most readers unfamiliar with Hesse would really get anything out of this novella which really isn't a novel or story but a narrative Bundesroman. It is highly symbolic of Hesse's own development as a writer and individual, and one of the more important points here is that this is the first of his full-length novels with a title not after an individual, but an ideal. This is the predecessor to the Glass Bead Game, setting the scene for Hesse's arrival in Castalia.

The Journey itself is a timeless, universal, philosophical and spiritual quest that includes all the great ideas, individuals or gurus, and events of one's personal repository of knowledge & level of enlightenment. Our main character, symbolically represented by two initials only, H.H. (he has not yet achieved a full name like Leo), searches for "Princess Fatima". Others' goals include "Tao" and "Kundalini". H.H. joined the League after the Great War. He shares his spiritual quest with like-minded brothers who all lose their good friend Leo along the way at Morbio Inferiore, a Swiss mountain village. Little known to them, Leo is not only a servant, but the Superior of the League. They disband and defect, losing the Secret amidst their own persoanl chaos. This amounts to the loss of one's childhood romantic ideals and dreams as they become more worldly and pragmatic (a common theme with Hesse). For H.H. the spark yet flickers, but he is in despair. As the narrative continues Hesse deftly correlates despair and depression with "individuation" - the insistence on personalizing life. H.H. eventually yields to Leo (a paradoxical name that Ziolkowski believes is actually St. Francis' favorite disciple, Leo Pecorella).

Despite having now read this novella four or five times over the last decade I continue to re-discover the strange, inspiring power within the Journey. Though very different, the Journey to the East picks up where Siddhartha left off and captures a crucial transitional phase on the way to Castalia. Here, Hesse has actually defined his "Third Kingdom" (Third Reich - a term hijacked by the Nazis to Hesse's chagrin when he stopped using the term), the realm of the spirit; which can only be reached through magical thinking.

So hope on board the Caravan! Come join Collofine the Sorcerer, Louis the Terrible, the Steppenwolfe's Pablo, the artists Klingsor and Paul Klee, Don Quixote and Lao Tze - poets, philosophers, artists, musicians - fellow seekers on their way towards the Home of the Light.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 11, 1998
This book is not what it at first appears to be, as is true of so much in life. It at first appears to be written about one journey, but we discover along with the author that another journey entirely is taking place. Any writer will relate to the struggles that the narrator experiences in parts II and III of this book; any reader may take the trial and sentencing of the narrator in the later part of the book as a cautionary tale.
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