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Siddhartha Mass Market Paperback – December 1, 1981
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In the shade of a banyan tree, a grizzled ferryman sits listening to the river. Some say he's a sage. He was once a wandering shramana and, briefly, like thousands of others, he followed Gotama the Buddha, enraptured by his sermons. But this man, Siddhartha, was not a follower of any but his own soul. Born the son of a Brahmin, Siddhartha was blessed in appearance, intelligence, and charisma. In order to find meaning in life, he discarded his promising future for the life of a wandering ascetic. Still, true happiness evaded him. Then a life of pleasure and titillation merely eroded away his spiritual gains until he was just like all the other "child people," dragged around by his desires. Like Hermann Hesse's other creations of struggling young men, Siddhartha has a good dose of European angst and stubborn individualism. His final epiphany challenges both the Buddhist and the Hindu ideals of enlightenment. Neither a practitioner nor a devotee, neither meditating nor reciting, Siddhartha comes to blend in with the world, resonating with the rhythms of nature, bending the reader's ear down to hear answers from the river. In this translation Sherab Chodzin Kohn captures the slow, spare lyricism of Siddhartha's search, putting her version on par with Hilda Rosner's standard edition. --Brian Bruya --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
From Library Journal
Siddhartha's life takes him on a journey toward enlightenment. Afire with youthful idealism, the Brahmin joins a group of ascetics, fasting and living without possessions. Meeting Gotama the Buddha, he comes to feel this is not the right path, though he also declines joining the Buddha's followers. He reenters the world, hoping to learn of his own nature, but instead slips gradually into hedonism and materialism. Surfeited and disgusted, he flees from his possessions to become a ferryman's apprentice, learning what lessons he can from the river itself. Herman Hesse's 1922 Bildungsroman parallels the life of Buddha and seems to argue that lessons of this sort cannot be taught but come from one's own struggle to find truth. Noted actor Derek Jacobi interprets this material wonderfully, and the package, despite abridging a Nobel prize winner's prose, can be highly recommended.AJohn Hiett, Iowa City P.L.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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