Author: Herman Hesse
A brilliant novel! It walks you through the life of Siddhartha (intentional conflict with Gautam Buddha's name), who wanders in the search for peace and self-enlightenment. He leaves his home to find his Self (or Atman) and oscillates between the world of maya and ascetism. The beauty of the story lies in what he learns in the various stages of his life and the the way author symbolizes things. I'm tempted to write more about the story but I think the less you read about the book before reading the book, the better it is; because it may bias your interpretation.
I generally tend to skip the introduction as I'm too impatient to start off with "Chapter 1" but in this case I did read it and it made things a lot clearer. So I would suggest that if you're like me - skipping Intros - then don't do it for this one.
My favorite part is the conversation between Siddhartha and a merchant. The merchant asks him what qualities does he have, Siddhartha tells him that he can think, fast and wait. To this the merchant replies, "What good can these be?". Siddhartha says that had he not possessed the quality of fasting he would have had to accept whatever job the merchant gave him today because he hasn't had food for quite sometime; but since he can fast he will accept a job on only his terms.
(If you plan to read the book, I suggest you don't read any further) Talking about symbols, the merchant is aptly called Kamaswami, meaning "master of desires" and working for him implies that you've submitted yourself to the worldly desires. So when Siddhartha puts his heart into working for Kamaswami, he starts losing his saintly qualities and gains mortal tendencies like anger, pride, etc. One day when he realizes what has consumed him and decides to revert to his ascetic life, he finds that hunger tortures him; no longer he can fast. Thus showing that it is very easy to be consumed by wordly desires and as difficult to denounce them. I could make a lot of connections between the teachings of Gita and what is depicted here. Towards the end, Siddhartha talks about being able to see brahma in everything be it a man or a stone and hence loving everything in this world. This is what is meant by the very first bullet in the ways to get closer to God.
It has a lot of spiritual insights but it is not just for people with a spiritual taste bud. I think it would appeal to all and sundry.
Bottomline: A must-read.
A synopsis of the book