I had this book on my wishlist for almost 4 years now and finally picked it up this month as part of the Orbis Terrarum challenge!
Siddhartha is an allegorical novel written originally in German by author Hermann Hesse who hails from Germany. Later it was translated to English and many other languages. This book was written by Hesse when he visited India briefly in the 1910s and was first published in 1922.
As Buddha was originally known as Siddhartha, people generally mistake this book to be about Gautama Buddha. The novel actually deals with the spiritual journey of a simple boy in ancient India, known as Siddhartha, during the time of Buddha. Siddharttha, the son of a Brahmin, leaves home along with his friend Govinda, in quest of enlightment and search of knowledge. He meets Gautama Buddha on his way, refuses to become his follower, though he respects his teachings and just wanders alone in pursuit of his quest. He goes through a series of changes during his journey and finally reaches his goal..
Hesse, through this book, shows that experience is the best way to understand reality and attain englightenment, not through imparting teachings from any learned one or scholastic methods nor immersing onself in the carnal pleasures either. It is a balance of everything....it's the totality of all these that helps us gain the understanding of the self or reality or Nirvana. According to the author, the path to enlightenment cannot be conferred by any teacher or by listening to the words of words of an enlightened one, because the words just describe the Truth, but it is not the Truth itself. I liked the way he has used River as a metaphor and symbol of life...it is its own beginning, middle and end...the source of life. All of Siddhartha's learnings are through the River...His path to enlightenment is by experiencing the emotions of humanity (Sansara) through the river, flowing from its source and gravitating back to it.
The book deals with extremely profound concepts and powerful themes of life and I absolutely loved it. It's a very unique novel and definitely not for all. You can enjoy it and derive something out of it, only if you are able to appreciate this kind of thought and if you lean towards the spiritual side of life. It's well worth a read.