This is about Hermann Hesse‘s novel, not Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha.

I recently had a friend recommend I read it, since she thought “[I’d] love it!” Funny enough, since I read it my senior year of high school for my AP Literature course. It was a choice assignment to be done over summer break before senior year started. Read Siddhartha, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, or The Alchemist by Coelho. Most of the class chose to read Heart of Darkness because it was only 120ish pages in the version they were required to buy. Pretty much the usual standby: the least amount of work = what most high school kids will read. And actually – of the 20 people who chose to read that novel, only 6 of them actually read it. The other 14 Spark-noted or Cliff-noted it. 5 chose to read The Alchemist and there were 3 of us who chose Siddhartha.

I chose Siddhartha because the version we were suggested to buy (not required) was out of print. Fascinating. So I wanted to read the book that had an out-of-print run to its name. Of course, that was angst-inducing for my poor parents, but hey, I really wanted to read it. Actually – I’m glad I took the time to use the Borders website and find the right version. I put a copy on hold at our local store, one of only 5 copies they had left and they weren’t buying more of that run either. So I got lucky.

And a side note – never let siblings borrow books. My sister took the same AP Lit class and told my parents she could use my book with my notes written into it already (not true actually), so they made me give it to her to use for her summer reading project. (The joys of being the older sibling) She promptly “lost” my book within a week of her senior year starting. I could have killed her – figuratively – because I loved the book. Not to mention – it was a really nice cover design and I was looking forward to showcasing it on my bookshelves once I got my room all set up for my first year of college. Since she lost the book within a week of both of us starting school, that never happened.

Anyway – the book was a bit confusing at first. I didn’t actually do any research on the book’s plot before reading, so at first I really had no clue what was going on. After reading the first chapter and not getting it, I wiki’d the plot as well as went back to the Borders site and read the reviews and plot synopsis. I normally wouldn’t do that, but I had to have some grounding, so that’s how I went about it. And actually, the Wikipedia page is quite different now on the English-language version than when I first read it back in 2008. I like the plot synopsis on today’s version better. It’s shorter and doesn’t give stuff away as much. Just a little bit to give a grounding.

Siddhartha was fascinating to read. I’ll admit, I didn’t really like the book at first. Too much ambiguity. But I read it all, and actually, once I’d thought on it more, I really liked it. It also helped that I read Heart of Darkness for fun and decided that of the two books I definitely preferred Hesse’s novel over Conrad’s. Beyond that though, when I reread it, it made far more sense. See, at first I had tried to separate out the individual episodes described. Meaning, I tried to take Siddhartha’s time as a trader as one totally different event, completely cut off from his time with the ascetics. They were, in my original reading, isolated incidents, completely separate and totally incongruous with each other. The second time I read it, I tried to see it as a path. The events were separated by time, but they were all on one long path. It made far more sense reading it that way. Originally I’d thought all that Siddhartha did was just distraction on his journey to finding enlightenment. Not so true. Sure, it seems like distractions and false trails, but I think Hesse meant for the experiences as a whole to be how one finds enlightenment. That was what our little trio decided at the end of our discussions at least.

It turned out though, all three of us had originally read the book as disjointed episodes, completely separate from each other. Our teacher was actually impressed that all three of us had figured out to try and read it as a path and not separate events, all without her having to tell us that on the first day of class. Normally I guess most students ended up being very confused until someone mentioned that, and she would explain that looking at the book not as separate events, but all part of a stream, was perhaps the better way to see it. So our little group actually had a bit of a head start on the discussion.

I think what I liked best about Siddhartha though was how it was unique. I’d never read anything like it, not that I can remember. It’s not exactly Shakespeare in terms of language. It’s far simpler and I think sometimes more powerful. Sometimes I suppose that can be a bit off-putting, that it is so simple and sometimes blunt in terms of language. But it worked here, and so I think it was a far more powerful telling than if Hesse had gone for a flowery, verbose and extremely ornate telling. It worked more, to use the strong and simple language, because it was not through some elaborate ritual or designed event that enlightenment was discovered. To me it seemed more that it was through simple life experiences.

But – Hesse wrote Siddhartha in German. Of course, this being high school, I read it in English. I had completely forgotten the little fact that it was a German novel until it was suggested to me again. Then I thought – I’m in Germany. I can actually read German up to a college academic level, even if sometimes I have some trouble understanding certain concepts. I’m going to buy a copy of it while I’m here, so I can read it in the original language. I’m a big believer of reading things, if possible, in the original language. Since I can read German, and I’m pretty good at it, why shouldn’t I read it in the original language? Because no matter what, something is always lost in translation. I’m sure to learn even more reading it as Hesse wrote it than I learned from a very good and very accurate translation.

And that’s the goal. I have every intention of stopping by my local Walthari and picking up Siddhartha so I can read it in German.

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