Hermann Hesse – Siddhartha (1951)

“When New Directions decided to publish the first English translation of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha in 1951, it could not have foreseen the enormous impact it would have on American culture. The novel’s ostensibly simple narrative—the story of a young, accomplished Brahmin, Siddhartha, who defies his father’s tradition in favor of wandering India in search of enlightenment— appealed to the restless drifter, the alienated youth, and the political anarchist alike. Its many motifs include the outcast from society; rejection of authority; communion with nature; recalcitrance toward schooling; and the idea of an immanent God. Published in the U.S. during the Cold War, Siddhartha addressed a perennial unrest and provided a new set of values for a generation of young people disenchanted with their parents’ conservatism. By the author’s own admission, Siddhartha is a story about individuality and self-expression, a quintessential Western tale cloaked in Indian garb and punctuated with a staunch nonconformity that served to cross both generations and cultures. Despite Hesse’s eclectic interest in the world’s religions, no other spiritual discipline permeated his entire life more than Buddhism. Many of his novels were infused with its compassionate foundation, while his characters became centered through developing an awareness of themselves and their own behavior with a kind of mindfulness that transcended the intellectual content of Buddhist philosophy. The author was struck by the Buddha’s ‘life as lived, as labor accomplished and action carried out. A training, a spiritual self-training of the highest order.’ It is this discipline which we see reflected in Hesse’s writing and in his own psychological struggle. His most influential work, Siddhartha is arguably also his most optimistic. … As a result, America witnessed a Hesse phenomenon that was unparalleled for a European writer. And yet despite its seemingly preordained success in America, the odds seemed stacked against the novel ever being finished in the first place back in 1920. It was only through a series of transformative experiences, wherein the author reinvented himself, that Siddhartha was born. Indeed, the novel had a legacy all its own prior to its arrival on American soil; the author’s process of self-realization was inextricably tied to the composition of the novel itself. …”
W – Siddhartha


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