Siddhartha (Herman Hesse, 1922)

Written in an elegant, lyrical style (at times it really does feel like poetry), Siddhartha, by German author Herman Hesse tells the story of a handsome and intelligent Brahmin’s son who abandons the comforts of his home and sets out on a spiritual journey of self-discovery. On a quest to seek enlightenment, he encounters many people and situations along the way, all leading up to his final realisation that the world must be loved in its completeness, and it is the totality of conscious experience that is the best approach to understanding reality.

The eloquent, fairy-tale-like prose of the novel lends pathos to the preoccupations of Siddhartha, with whom we empathise even at his worst. There is something very recognisable about his confusions and conflicts; they speak to the seeker in us all. Although the text is informed with tenets of Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, it should not be seen as a substitute for or guide to the principles of those religions. Published in 1922, long before the Hippie movement of the ‘60s, it was the first major work dealing with Eastern thought in the Western world. For this reason, it has influenced the works of many others ahead of its time, such as well-known Beat-era author Jack Kerouac.

What I liked most about Siddhartha was its optimistic outcome. It’s a deep book, a profound book, but somehow still has a light and airy feel about it. The ending left me feeling uplifted, positive and to an extent, wiser. The final chapter was very touching, particularly with its musings on love and life and meaning, and I put the book down with a smile on my face.

And all the voices, all the goals, all the yearnings, all the sorrows, all the pleasures, all the good and evil, all of them together was the world. All of them together was the stream of events, the music of life.