Book Review: “Siddhartha” by Hermann Hesse

ANNA VANSEVEREN | ENTERTAINMENT COLUMNIST

In Herman Hesse’s novel originally published in 1922, Siddhartha, a wealthy Indian Brahmin, searches for true spiritual meaning. Along with his friend, Govinda, Siddhartha leaves home to live the life of a shramana. He becomes homeless, meditates intensely and renounces all possessions. Eventually, he gets a chance to seek out and have a conversation with the Buddha. While Govinda is quick to join the Buddha’s group of ascetics, Siddhartha has some problems with the Buddha’s teachings. Siddhartha finds that he must start a whole new path to get to know his true self without the guidance of a teacher. 

The next part of his life is spent in complete luxury and materialism with a woman named Kamala, a complete 180 from his time as a shramana. Kamala teaches Siddhartha many things about love, but doesn’t actually believe that he can truly love someone. Siddhartha develops a gambling addiction and the beauty of this lavish way of living soon begins to fade away. He begins to hate himself and everything around him as he longs for the spiritual fulfillment he was looking for in the first place. Siddhartha returns to seclusion and reconnects with a ferryman named Vasudeva. Through Vasudeva, Siddhartha learns how to listen to the voice of the river and about the illusion of time. Siddhartha is left alone once more, but he is now peacefully fulfilled. 

I read this book for a philosophy presentation, but I have been looking for an excuse to read it for a very long time. The ideas of the Eastern religions [wisdom traditions] have always intrigued me, and I wanted to see how Hesse mixed those traditions with Western ideas of individualism. I read “Siddhartha” in one day; it’s just that good. Looking back, I guess I wish I would have taken more time because there are so many amazing things to analyze and think more deeply about. “Siddhartha” is a book that you have to be engaged in throughout every chapter. With a little over 100 pages, depending on which version you read, “Siddhartha” isn’t a long book, but its important messages make it seem a lot longer than it actually is. This is not a book that you can turn your brain off to, but I think that’s what makes it so captivating. I guarantee that I will be rereading this book at some point in the future in order to pick up on small details that I may have missed. This is a book that will teach you something about the world and about yourself. I recommend this book to everyone, regardless of religious background. If you don’t have any knowledge about Eastern religions, then it might require some Googling of certain concepts, but it’s well worth it. 

Favorite quote: “It may be important to great thinkers to examine the world, to explain and despise it. But I think it is only important to love the world, not to despise it, not for us to hate each other, but to be able to regard the world and ourselves and all beings with love, admiration and respect.”

Aesthetic: The kind of book that will make you stay awake at night, questioning everything. 

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