Thursday, January 04, 2007

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

(Book Review)

This book turned out to be not what I expected, although it was not a bad little book on its own terms.

Since being in Japan, I’ve become aware of how ignorant I am of Buddhist mythology. Especially after reading the Buddha manga series by Tezuka Osamu. I’ve been on the look out for a book that would retell some of the stories about Buddha in a modern format and, if at all possible, not get too bogged down in the philosophy behind it. And it turns out I’m still looking for that book.

Although Siddhartha is original name of the Buddha, the Siddhartha in this book is a different person whose life intersects with the Buddha at points, but who ends off going on his own path. (To prevent confusion, the Buddha is referred in this book as Gotama, one of his other names).

Much of the criticism of this book praises the simple biblical like prose which Hesse writes in. I don’t know how it reads in the original German, but I found this kind of distracting. It does read like the bible, or like another ancient document. But in the 20th century, why not write about Buddha in a modern style? Surely there are already more than enough ancient texts about Buddhism already.

That being said, the style did kind of grow on me as I progressed through the book. It just took a bit of getting used to.

There is a lot of philosophy in this book, and to be honest I don’t know if I chewed on any of it long enough to be able to intelligently comment. Some of it did seem overly simplistic to me, but, not having done the work of engaging with it, I’ll just leave it at that.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
The song "Honey Pie" is a direct homage to the British music-hall style. It concerns a famed actress, known through the hypocharisma "Honey Pie", and her old lover, who wishes for her to rejoin him in England. The premise – a humble admirer yearning for the return of his lover – is not unlike a typical music-hall plot. In order to establish an appropriate, old-timey sound, 'scratches' were added to the third line, "Now she's hit the big time!" from a 78 RPM record.

Link of the Day
More Japanese Music

If Japanese folk music from the early 70s is my favorite, Japanese Boogie Woogie from 40s and 50s has got to be a close second. Unfortunately this is the only video I can find on Youtube at the time.

The most famous song is "Tokyo Boogie Woogie". (it was in the back ground briefly at one point in "Memoirs of a Geisha" if you saw that movie). I can't find the original online, but there are a lot of covers. My favorite is this amature Ukelele version.

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