Monday, April 27, 2015

I feel very ambivalent about this and I think that's the point

This book used to belong to my dad, who gave it to his friend Tim, who passed it down to me. There's a sort of oneness of all things and cyclic feeling in that which feels appropriate when I consider how I felt about Siddhartha while I was reading it and now, a couple of weeks after it's had time to percolate in my head.

The book is about one man's attempt to understand his place in the universe - first through religious zealotry, then through abandoning his faith, and then by returning to his faith without the ritual and pre-scripted behavior that he started with. It's one of those books that was HUGE a few decades ago but has largely fallen out of the mainstream now and so feels very representative of one era but out-of-place to modern readers. I totally get why Siddhartha was heavily read in the sixties and seventies, and I totally get why people don't seem to read it as much now - it was a story that needed to be heard then and now we all already know it.

But Siddhartha isn't about its time of publication or the hype that surrounded it, it's about a man trying to figure his shit out. I've got to say that a large part of the plot just wasn't very compelling to me - there were large sections of the novel that felt dull and didactic and like I could have easily skipped them and not changed the outcome of my reading. But I read them anyway because the language was simple and lovely and I appreciated the way that the story was being told even if I didn't much care for the story itself.

All in all Siddhartha is a fine book to read - especially if you're looking for a very basic introduction to Buddhist philosophy - but it's no more worthwhile than other Buddhist texts written by people who were from the places the story was set. The language is very pleasant, and the whole book has a sort of fairytale feel, and can be easily read in the course of an afternoon. If you have a copy and feel inclined, read it. If you don't have a copy and can't be bothered don't read it. The world will keep spinning either way.

     - Alli

Hesse, Hermann. Translated by Hilda Rosner. Siddhartha. New Directions Paperback.
     New York: New York. 1951.

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