This classic novel, set in India during the life of the Buddha, begins as a young man named Siddhartha decides to leave his parents’ home in search of inner knowledge, wisdom, and the renunciation of the Self. He joins the ascetics, and becomes adept at living a life of self-denial, but finds that he is still dissatisfied with the results. His Self is still with him. He listens to the teachings of the Buddha, but decides he must go his own way. The very short book (about 150 pages) follows his efforts and charts his ups and downs on the path to self-knowledge.
My book discussion group read this book recently, and the majority opinion was, “I didn’t enjoy the book, but I’m glad I read it.” I have to agree. The lack of reading enjoyment stems from the lack of character development. The people in the book are more Jungian archetypes than real people. (The author was a patient of Dr. Jung.) One group member made the excellent point that Siddhartha is not so much a novel as it is a book of religious philosophy. Hence the emphasis on Siddhartha’s inner life.
Does this mean I don’t recommend the book? Oh, no. Let’s concentrate on the second part of the sentence above, the “I’m glad I read it” part. Siddhartha is definitely worth reading even if it isn’t a thrill a minute. The character of Siddhartha is someone most of us can identify with as we struggle to understand ourselves and to decide how we want to live our lives.
For another take on this book, see my colleague Dan’s review from a few years ago.