A classic of twentieth-century fiction, Siddhartha is the story of the spiritual awakening of a man living in India at the time of the Buddha. Born into a wealthy Brahmin family, he leaves his home for the contemplative life, then, restless, discards that life for one of the flesh. He conceives a son, but bored and sickened by lust and greed, moves on again. Near despair, Siddhartha comes to a river where he hears a unique sound. This sound signals the true beginning of his life-the beginning of a new understanding of suffering, a growing sense of peace, and, finally, wisdom.
Hermann Hesse was born in 1877 in Calw, Germany. He was the son and grandson of Protestant missionaries and was educated in religious schools until the age of thirteen, when he dropped out of school. At age eighteen he moved to Basel, Switzerland, to work as a bookseller and lived in Switzerland for most of his life. His early novels include Peter Camenzind (1904), Beneath the Wheel (1906), Gertrud (1910), and Rosshalde (1914). During this period Hesse married and had three sons. During World War I Hesse worked to supply German prisoners of war with reading materials and expressed his pacifist leanings in antiwar tracts and novels. Hesse's lifelong battles with depression drew him to study Freud during this period and, later, to undergo analysis with Jung. His first major literary success was the novel Demian (1919). When Hesse's first marriage ended, he moved to Montagnola, Switzerland, where he created his best-known works: Siddhartha (1922), Steppenwolf (1927), Narcissus and Goldmund (1930), Journey to the East (1932), and The Glass Bead Game (1943). Hesse won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946. He died in 1962 at the age of eighty-five.