Literature Reviews Page 2

  •  Narcissus and Goldmund

    by Hermann Hesse

    • Paperback: 315 pages
    • Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux; Reissue edition (September 1988)
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 0374506841
    • ISBN-13: 978-0374506841

    One of the most beautiful books I've read. The QUEST of Life.

    Rating *****  5 stars out of 5.  Absorbing, exciting, touching, meaningful; Hesse's greatest work.

    "My favorite of Hesse's novels, a wonderful read.

    In my college years, Hermann Hesse was one author considered required reading by my peers. I read and reread all of his better known novels and found them all worthwhile. But of all of Hesse's work, it is Narcissus and Goldmund that moved me most deeply and it is the novel (of Hesse's) to which I have returned to most often.

    Like all of Hesse's novels, it is about the the pursuit of the meaning of life, but here the writing is less self-conscious, simpler in some ways, but deeper in the exploring the range of human experience. It has drama, insight, poetic vision and covers a wide range of experiences. It is very Existential in some ways, but touches on the mystical in the arts with a more profound effect than the more "metaphysical" manner of the earlier novels.

    This novel is about two medieval men with a very deep friendship but with very different temperaments. The meet in a monastery (after the death of Goldmund's mother). They appear to be complete opposites each seeks to bring meaning to their existence; Narcissus seeks peace and salvation (purity of mind) within a religious life in a monastery, while Goldmund is burning with the desire to experience life and throw himself into the world.

    The story is about finding one's way and being true to one's inner nature. Narcissus lives a life of constraint but one that has purpose for him. Goldmund is unhappy in the monastery, and Narcissus tells him "be yourself, try to realize yourself" and encourages him to find his own way. The men separate to following their own paths. We follow the lives of both of these men, and in their contrasting experiences.

    Goldmund then wanders the world in search of adventure, love and self-discovery . He has fantastic adventures, experiences the best and worst of humanity surrounded by the Black Plague; and in the mist of all these hardships, he finds meaning and beauty. After being profoundly touched by the beauty of wooden statue of the Madonna, the artist within himself awakens giving a new purpose and direction for his life. He seeks out the artist and becomes his apprentice. He develops his own skills, sacrificing the wild experiences and settling down to work (at least for the duration of the work) and he creates a sculpture of great merit.

    Hesse writes powerfully and beautifully on the conflict between the Apollonian (understanding; form, order, restraint, conforming, the world of the intellect/mind) and the Dionysian (experience; passion, frivolity, lust, expression, the world of images/symbol/beauty). Hesse is able to bring out the conflict between flesh and spirit, emotion and control, ambition and modesty. This is a novel about the dilemma of life, and two possible paths that of spiritual pilgrims and that of artistic souls on the road of life. This was perfectly timed for me, in my early twenties, this book seems to express artistically and poignantly the central conflict of my life.

    Augustine said" Only the passionate heart is pure"   and   "Revelation is not revelation unless it reveals a man to himself."

    When I was younger (and idealistically "spiritual"), I definitely believed in Goldmund's view that beauty and life itself are ultimately transitory (I am Buddhist). However, I burned with passion and was totally absorbed in the joy and adoration for the beauty and meaning of music; Then, as I grew wiser (certainly open to debate) I came to realize that the transitory nature of life itself is one of the reasons that it is so precious, and so important to live every moment, and that a great creation of art (music, literature) lives forever, for all eternity the symphonies of Mozart will resound though the Eternal Being that is eternally singing them.  (I find it unbelievable that this novel has not been made into a movie)

    ALSO SEE THE NEXT REVIEWS  an audiobook version,  and an alternative transation by Dunlop

    Narcissus and Goldmund : Audiobook

     Simon Vance, narrator

  • Duration: 10 hours 41 minutes
  • Publisher: AudioGO (2009)
  • Language: English
  • Rating *****   5 stars out of 5.  a wonderful narration of my favorite Hesse novel

  •  I own dozens of audiobooks, and none are better performed than this one. The narrator, Simon Vance, has the perfect voice, expression and pacing for such a meaningfull story. He varies the pitch and style of his speech to clearly portray each of the characters and expresses the difference between the thoughts and the words of the characters. He never over-acts nor does he ever rush the delivery. I've read the book several times, but in my listening to the audiobook I heard details that I'd never noticed before. As a result of the enjoyment of this performance, I've now purchased many other audiobooks narrated by Simon Vance, they are all well-read. Most highly recommended


  •  Narziss and Goldumund

     Hermann Hesse, Dunlop translation

  • Paperback: 284 pages
  • Publisher: Fitts Press (January 10, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1446528227
  • ISBN-13: 978-1446528228
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.9 inches


    Rating *****   4.0 stars out of 5.  an intense, deeply moving human drama; unquestionably a masterpiece

  • Rating ****  Very enjoyable alternative translation of my favorite Hesse book, August 3, 2011


  • Peter Owen Moden Classic

     Narziss and Goldumund

     Hermann Hesse, Leila Vennewitz translation

  • Paperback: 253 pages
  • Publisher: Peter Owen Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 978-0720611021
  • Product Dimensions: 7.2x 4.8 x 0.9 inches


    Rating *****   5.5 stars out of 5.  an intense, deeply moving human drama; unquestionably a masterpiece

  • Rating *****  Very enjoyable alternative translation of my favorite Hesse book, August 3, 2011


  • Enlightening translation.

    I have read most of the novels of Hesse, and Narcissis and Goldmund is my favorite, I had read the Molinaro translation 5-6 times and assumed it was unquestionably the best translation (and it is great) because of it's wide distribution and predominance in the English version. I have loved Narcissis and Goldmund, but have always noticed a certain tone in the dialogues that I considered somewhat self-conscious or .

    In college I acquired a moderate reading  ability in German, and recently began reading it in the native language (slowly, been a while since I used German) and found the tone of the writing was quite different than I experienced in the English reading.

    Years ago, I had found the translation by Geoffrey Dunlop.

    Recently I discovered (on one of my bookshelves) the translation by Leila Vennewitz and it became my favorite edition. I found the reading a total joy, almost like reading it for the first time, and this translation has a different tone. Curious, I went back and began a word-for-work comparison of the translations, and I find they are not even close enough to compare. The Molinaro actually follows the German text much more closely, Dunlop's approach is a totally free translation, it seems that he read the passages in paragraphs and then wrote the equivalent in English translation. It is much freer, he is not so constrained to have a sentences match sentence per sentence, he even moves parts of a sentence to the next paragraph, but he organized the thought/descriptions in a convincing way.

    However the Vennewitz translation (a Peter Owen Modern Classic) was a joyous discovery.  It has been like hearing a famous symphony performed at a new tempo, or seeing art that has been restored.... I find it a really excellent work when compared to the other translations... when it come to the impact and the self-consciousness of the writing style. I may read Molinaro's translation again, but this will be my favorite, and has deepened my love for this great masterpiece.

    Why it has been so overlooked is a puzzlement to me. It at least equals Molinaro's and at least should be read as a complement.

    This translation is worth searching for, if you've not found the magic of Narcissis and Goldmund, or wish to experience it from a different view, read the Vennewitz translation.


  •  The Glass Bead Game: (Magister Ludi)

    by Hermann Hesse

    • Paperback: 576 pages
    • Publisher: Picador
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 0312278497
    • ISBN-13: 978-0312278496

    The Game of Life.

    Rating *****  4.5 stars out of 5.  Hesse's second greatest work.

    In my college years, Hermann Hesse was one author that was considered required reading by my peers. I read and reread all of his better known novels including Demian, Steppenwolf, Siddhartha, Journey to the East, The Glass Bead Game: (Magister Ludi) and my favorite Narcissus and Goldmund.

     I found the first 50 pages rather difficult reading and I put it down several times before completing it. I was unprepared for the slow pacing, indirection and the humor (I wasn't sure if it was intended as a satire since my expectations where set by Hesse's earler novels).

    I loved the setting and the concept of the game, but found the plot going off into a direction other than I had expected.

    Recently I reread and thoroughly enjoyed the book and now see it as one of his better works . Written late in Hesse's life, this book is intended for a more mature audience, is filled with ironies and a playfulness or humor about life's ambiguities.

    The Glass Bead Game concludes with three short stories (other lifetimes of the protagonist): The Rainmaker, The Father Confessor, and The Indian Life. The underlying theme of the stories is that the forfeiture of self, or self-interest, leads to redemption or an awakening. I would have found the book easier reading, if they were presented at the beginning of the novel rather than at the end. I think it would have set my expectations on course with the actual novel's unfolding.

    The novel is set in the future in Castalia, an academy of theoretical research and analysis and higher persuits. However it is missing the daring and  verve of life and avoids the innovative/experiemental impulses of true creativity.

    The protaganist, Joesph Knecht is raised in this culture. He also lived at a couple of subcultures outside Castalia. At Bamboo Grove, under Elder Brother's tutelage he learned to meditate, play I-Ching, read Chuang Tzu, and learn Chinese studies.

    Later at a Benedictine monastery he was the guest of Father Jacobus, with whom he discussed politics, religion, philosophy, music, and history. Knecht learned everything to play "the game" and was elevated to the role of Magister Ludi. But his knowledge went unapplied beyond Castalia.

    "Serenely let us move to distant places
    And let no sentiments of home detain us.
    The Cosmic Spirit seeks not to restrain us
    But lifts us stage by stage to wider spaces."

    Patience is required to enjoy The Glass Bead Game. The story is about the coming of age of a sensitive person who is looking for answers and experience resulting in maturity and finding a fit in the world.

    Rather, one of the aspects of the book that I found particularly compelling is the Game itself and the ideas behind it.

    The Glass Bead Game is a meditation/contemplation collaborative yet competitive game through which the 2 players create a matrix of symbols like creating a puzzle/chess game out of beads representing things from the entire field of humna knowledge and experience and then adding threads of meaning, commentaries and allusion between the beads representing links and insights that tie them together. Each bead can represent almost anything from all the fields of knowledge, where the point is to take concepts from otherwise disparate disciplines and associate them in creative, profound ways -- finding a pattern shared rhythmically by a piece of Baroque music and spatially by ancient Chinese architecture, for example.

    The intuitive processing of gaining insight and of finding and notating  these new, previously unseen associations between things is a quality of a great mind, and the best games would be like performances that produce a new work of art full of insight, beauty and joy.

    Insight and allusion is elevated to an artform which is a commentary on artforms.

    The fascination of *Glass Bead Game* was that, for me, it began to formalize the idea of meta-knowledge -- that is, how we think about what we know. There's probably tons of psychology literature about this phenomenon, learning theory, or whatnot, but Hesse manages to incorporate it not into a dissertation on the Game, but on a decidedly artistic book that revolves around the Game. What talent, to so eloquently present such a profound idea as merely one aspect of a larger work of art!

    Rarely have I found a concept so new and so compelling! But this is also why I was disappointed that Hesse didn't explore and describe for the reader the details of one of the games.

    But I guess that the novel is Hesse's glass bead game performance, in the novel he's saying everything that he wants to convey in this book which is comprised of a novel, 13 poems, and 3 short stories.

    It would be easy to find this book disjointed and tedious at times. This book has the same esoteric spiritual search as Hesse's other books, but its main character pursues the not out of some desperate need, seeking release from some tragic flaw, but see the search as a inevitable process that develops of out the life experience. So Knecht is not the character representing the teen/angst/stranger/Steppenwolf figure, but rather a less conflicted soul (like a person of more mature age) and therefore much less desperate and intense for the reader.

    The book has as much to say about the political / social aspects of life as about the spiritual. The message is a very different world view than , say, Atlas Shrugged. The expectations of the world/life experience are radically different. Magister Ludi is about balance of every aspect of the human character, and the novel proceeds from diversity to unity by it's conclusion. A fitting conclusion to the work of one the greatest writers of all  time.






  • Paperback: 824 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (June 14, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374528373
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374528379
  • Rating *****   4.5 stars out of 5.  an intense, deeply moving human drama; unquestionably a masterpiece

    I can use many of the same word that I used to describe Dostoevksy: intense, penetrating, introspective, questioning, provocative, profound, despairing, intriguing, dark,  philosophical
    diverse,  archetypical (symbolic), exciting, surprising, tragic, intellectual but also passionate

    A mixture of Eastern mysticism and Western culture, it's is a story about the path of the human soul in its quest to find uniqueness and liberation.

    "Harry Haller is a sad and lonely figure, a reclusive intellectual for whom life holds no joy. He struggles to reconcile the wild primeval wolf and the rational man within himself without surrendering to the bourgeois values he despises. His life changes dramatically when he meets a woman who is his opposite, the carefree and elusive Hermine. The tale of the Steppenwolf culminates in the surreal Magic Theater—For Madmen Only!"

    Reminds of Dostoevsky's "Notes from the Underground" in theme and the treatise reminds me of "The Grand Inquisitor"  from The Brothers Karamazov




  • Paperback: 824 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (June 14, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374528373
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374528379
  • Rating *****   4.5 stars out of 5.  an intense, deeply moving human drama; unquestionably a masterpiece

    From Teen angst the struggle to selfhood.




    Ahead of All Parting:

    The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke
    by Rainer Maria Rilke, Stephen Mitchell (Translator)

    • Hardcover: 640 pages
    • Publisher: Modern Library;
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 0679601619
    • ISBN-13: 978-0679601616

    Rating *****  5 stars out of 5.  Essential

    I studied German, just to read Rilke (my favorite poet, even in translation) in his native language.

    This is one of my favorite collections of poetry. Excellent translation (though I'd recommend you collect several to get different views to clarify the exact meaning), very , very rewarding reading. This translation manages to capture not only the meaning but also the "feel" of the original text. Mitchell's rendering of Rilke enables the non-German-reader to experience Rilke's poetry in spirit as well as sense. (I'm not a great fan of all of Mitchell's work, but this is exceptional). I have virtually every translation of Rilke in print, and this is the book that I return to most often. This volume contains all of Rilke's major poetry and selections from his prose, so it's a great introduction to his work. (And the book itself has great quality)

    The first poem, "I live my life in widening rings," is alone worthy of years of contemplation (see my next review for more on this one). And I never cease to find inspiration and solace in "For the Sake of a Single Poem." . And the great Duino Elegies, I have nearly memorized from so many re-readings. I consider "Ahead of All Parting" one of the most cherished books that I own.

    Most Highly Recommended.!

    The Book of Hours: Prayers to a Lowly God

    by Rainer Maria Rilke, Annemarie S. Kidder

    • Paperback: 234 pages
    • Publisher: Northwestern University Press;
    • ISBN: 081011888

    Rating ***  3 stars out of 5.  .., December 26, 2001

    Nice to have a new, complete translation however...  I prefer a more careful (more direct) translation of this great work.  Why rewrite and interpret what is clear. Some examples from the first page: the beautiful passage,

    'I live my life in expanding (growing) circles'

    has a phrase          

         'Ich weiss noch nicht'

    very easy to translate as         

         'I know not yet' or 'I don't yet know'

    here it is translated as         

           'yet unclear of my role'    (which is interpretation, which the reader would have seen, and it misses the direct beauty of Rilke's style).


          'um den uralten Turm'

    is translated 

         'around the tower of old',

    which is not bad but isn't

         'around the ancient tower.' more direct and poetic?

    And the wonderous conclusion of the passage is

          'bin ich ein Falke, ein Sturm oder ein grosser Gesang'

    which is translated as

          'be it falcon or storm or another magnificent song? (another?)

    instead of the direct

          'am I a falcon, a storm, or a great song'.

    Another example in this paragraph is

          'Ich kreise um Gott.und ich kreise jahrtausendelang'

    this passage poetically uses the word 'kreise' twice to create a symmetry

          'I circle around God' and I circle (for) thousands of years.'

     instead it is translated as         

           'I circle around God and I spin amidst thousands of years'.

    So for the paragraph we have Kidder's:

    I circle around God, around the tower of old, and I spin amidst thousands of years;
    yet unclear of my role, be it falcon or storm or another magnificent song.

    my version

    I circle around God, around the ancient tower, and I circle for thousands of years;
    and I know not yet, am I a falcon, a storm, or a great song.

    and yet, I do not know, am I a falcon, a storm, or a great song.)

    and still, I do not know, am I a falcon, a storm, or a great song.)

    I think the Barrows translation is the best available, but hope another will appear in the near future or this one will be revised.



    GO TO PAGE 1 of LITERATURE REVIEWS   (Modern: Marquez,  Rand, Helprin)

    GO TO PAGE 3 of LITERATURE REVIEWS   (Dostoevsky, Dante)


    GO TO PAGE 5 of LITERATURE REVIEWS  (Classics, Dante)







    return to David's Home Page

    Copyright 1997-2012 David McClanahan

    Updated: November 18, 2011 09:03:14 PM