Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

Siddhartha: An Indian Tale by Hermann Hesse is one of those books many people drop onto their “to be read” list because they hear it praised often but then few get around to reading.  I read a translation of this book ten years ago and, because it is a part of the Transformational Book Circle, I reread it in this new translation.

This novel is about a man’s search for spiritual meaning in his life and the different paths he takes to get to where he needs to be.  I can see why this book has been such an inspiration since its publication.  I can also see why so much depends on the quality of the translation because I don’t think that the edition I read is a particularly good translation.  It could, of course, simply be that the book is so poorly edited that the translation inevitably pales by comparison, dulling what would otherwise be a stellar text.  To be honest, I don’t think that’s the case.  Having read the book before but translated by a different author, I just don’t think that this translation has the same poetry or power.

The cd that comes along with this particular edition is a guided meditation, led by Gay Hendricks.  He asks a series of “wonder questions” with some odd music played in between, leaving the listener time to meditate upon each question.  The music made me want to move, as there was a gentle but clear beat.  I like to dance; what can I say?  Needless to say, I would have preferred silence.  I know some people are afraid of silence.  However, I can’t help thinking it would be nice to have more guided meditations that allow for silence as well as meditation.

The questions themselves are interesting and I think they would make wonderful journaling prompts, especially for anyone who is either at a personal crossroads or at a time of renewal.  With the New Year around the corner, I think that they would make an excellent beginning for exploring the changes I want to see in my life in 2011 but they would be just as effective as one approaches a birthday or something similar.

I have a feeling, however, that you do not have to buy the Transformational Book Circle edition with the bonus cd to find this guided meditation or something similar in some of his other writings and recordings.  He has been publishing books and cds for a long a while and I’d be surprised if these same questions aren’t available in some other format, especially given that this edition is (deservedly) out of print.

So in summary: good book in a bad translation with a cd that has an interesting guided meditation equals a rather mixed review over all.  Sorry I could be more decisive about how I felt over all.  Maybe next time.

(I would suggest, before buying a particular copy of this book, reading a few sample pages from different translations to see which you like the best.)

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