Perhaps Herman Hesse’s most famous work, Siddhartha is a short, but intense story of one man’s life.
I’ve only read one other book by Hesse — Steppenwolf. They are starkly different books. Siddhartha is very much a confident and exuberant individual initially, and sees life as a book meant to be opened and interpreted freely. He believes in knowledge and wisdom, seeking a deeper and deeper understanding wherever possible. It drives him continually.
At a young age he leaves his father and mother in hopes of becoming more knowledgeable, to the disdain of his father. But go he must, to renounce life with possession and focusing solely on being. He fasts, he thinks deeply and considers life. Eventually he departs from the group others he has wandered with, including his best friend Govinda, while they follow Buddha for his teachings. He is certain that he can find other knowledge – though he does place high regard in their leader still.
Siddhartha later finds he is interested in a woman named Kamala. She is not interested in men of little means and tells him so, after which he spends a great deal of time learning about business. Initially he laughs at the idea of it all, and lives under pretense of it meaning something to him. He wins over Kamala and spends time with her outside of his monetary pursuits. However in time the life consumes him, he spends more and more time acquiring and gambling away money. It all means everything, yet it means nothing.
In time, he realizes the faults in his ways and leaves the life behind him. Little did he know that last night he left Kamala with their only child.
Returning to a life of solemn consideration at the river he once passed, Siddhartha now only spends his days helping others to cross. The river is now his ally, his teacher and friend. In time, Kamala comes to him with his son, but she is bitten by a snake and passes. At this point his son is hateful of him and despises the simplicity of his life. He came from somewhere that had delicacy and high life. Here he is living in a dirt floor shack with no real luxury.
His son eventually runs off only to cause him heartbreak — much like he had done to his father and mother previously.
Toward the latter part of his life, Govinda happens upon Siddhartha again at the river. At their reunion, Siddhartha finds something he has been searching for his entire life.
I won’t explain the rest of the story, but it is a beautiful book that can make you rethink things in a positive life. I recommend it much more than Steppenwolf, both in terms of rhythm and positivity.