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Thursday, May 03, 2018

Siddhartha (1922) by Herman Hesse

Book Review
Siddhartha (1922)
 by Herman Hesse

  Siddhartha by Herman Hesse was translated into English in 1951, thereafter it became a horseman of the 1960's culture, a staple of dorm rooms and be-ins, a status it continued to enjoy for decades.  It's the kind of book that peaked in influence by the 1970's and then suffered for being to closely affiliated with a specific place and time, even though that place and time was half a century away from the place and time Siddhartha was originally published.

  It's possible to see Siddhartha as a progenitor of the idea in the West that one could travel to India in search of Enlightenment, that Enlightenment could be actually found in India.   This was a novel perspective in the 1960's, particularly in the United States, which didn't have the same connection to "the East" as the British Empire.   It's often said that Siddhartha is "about" THE Buddha, i.e. Gautama Buddha, the historical personage who is credited with the creation of Buddhism. Guatama Buddha was also known as Siddhartha, but this Siddhartha is not that Siddhartha. 

  I remember reading a vintage 1970's era paper-book version of Siddhartha that I bought from Moe's Used books on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, California when I was in high school.  At the time, Buddhist/Hindu philosophy was unknown to me, about as exotic to me as it must have been to German readers in the 1920's and American's in the 1960s.  I think that is the key to the enduring popularity of Siddhartha- it's a gateway to an interest in Buddhist/Hindu philosophy. 

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