Book Review: Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

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Siddhartha is a captivating novel by Hermann Hesse that follows the life of an Indian boy named Siddhartha during the time of the Buddha. It’s the nineteenth book in the Hesse series and was originally written in German with a simple yet powerful and musical style.

Hesse drew inspiration from his time in India during the 1910s to write the book, which was first published in 1922. Although it wasn’t initially popular, it gained fame after its release in the United States in 1951 and became even more well-known during the 1960s.

The book’s title comes from two Sanskrit words, siddha (gotten) and artha (meaning or wealth), which together mean “one who has found meaning (in existence)” or “one who has achieved their goals.”

In the book, the Buddha is referred to as “Gotama.” Before he became a renunciate, he was known as Prince Siddhartha Gautama.

You do not have to read the entire book if you don’t have time. This book review provides an overview of everything you can learn from it.

Let’s get started without further ado.

In this Siddhartha book review, I’m going to cover the following topics:

Book Summary

Siddhartha, one of Hesse’s most spiritual books, is rooted in his fascination with Indian religion and explores themes from both Hindu and Buddhist traditions. While Hesse pursues his own ideas, sometimes at the cost of accuracy to the source religions, he manages to give a reasonably accurate impression of some aspects of those traditions.

The book’s protagonist, Siddhartha, is an old ferryman who spends his time observing and listening to the river. He was once a wandering wise man and a follower of Gotama the Buddha. The Buddha, also called Siddhartha Gautama, appears as a character in the book, but Hesse’s actual intentions are clearly to set Siddhartha up as a separate figure in his own right.

Siddhartha is the son of a Brahmin, a handsome, wise, charismatic man who becomes a religious adept at an early age. He leaves home in the company of his close friend Govinda to pursue a life of asceticism and enlightenment. They encounter Gotama, the Buddha, and spend time with him, but Siddhartha believes that his enlightenment must be something he achieves alone, so the two friends part.

Siddhartha then immerses himself in the world of earthly wealth and pleasures after meeting the courtesan Kamala, with whom he fathers a son. He takes his place among the ‘child people’ who are only interested in worldly things.

Throughout this process, Hesse discusses the concept of samsara, the Indian concept of the flow of life, which is a recurring metaphor in the book. Samsara refers to the constant flow of the world into which we may be reincarnated, and in which we experience suffering and evil – it is a version of the ‘circle of life.’

By pursuing a life of pleasure and money, Siddhartha is pursuing a different approach to knowledge, but it means nothing to him until he realizes the worthlessness of this life. Once he starts to suffer from the sickness of the soul, which Hesse describes as being the characteristic feature of the wealthy, Siddhartha leaves all that he has attained behind. He meets with the ferryman, who helps him across the river for free, and eventually, Siddhartha will himself come to tend the riverboat.

Late in the book, Siddhartha encounters the son he didn’t know he had after Kamala’s death. Here we encounter a different version of the circle of life, as Siddhartha’s son turns out to be ungrateful and difficult, while Siddhartha himself discovers that he doesn’t know how to deal with this young man.

From these disparate experiences, Siddhartha finally attains a kind of wisdom. Finding that he is in rhythm with the spirit of the passing river, Siddhartha reaches his own epiphany and overcomes the spiritual problems of his own life.

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1. The Search for Enlightenment

The central theme of the book is the search for enlightenment. Siddhartha is born into a wealthy family and is expected to follow in his father’s footsteps as a Brahmin. However, he is not satisfied with the life that has been predetermined for him and sets out to find the true meaning of existence.

Siddhartha’s journey takes him from a life of privilege to a life of poverty as he seeks enlightenment through various experiences. He meets with ascetics, falls in love with a courtesan, becomes a wealthy merchant, and eventually becomes a ferryman. Each experience teaches him something new about himself and the world around him, but he is still searching for the ultimate truth.

2. The River as a Metaphor for Life

Throughout the book, the river is used as a metaphor for life. It represents the constant flow of existence and the interconnectedness of all things. Siddhartha spends much of his time near the river, contemplating its meaning and trying to understand his place in the world.

The river also represents the idea of samsara, the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Siddhartha learns that life is not linear, and that everything is connected in some way. This realization helps him to achieve a sense of inner peace and understanding.

3. Self-Discovery and Inner Turmoil

Siddhartha’s journey is not an easy one. He experiences moments of self-doubt, uncertainty, and inner turmoil. He struggles with the concept of love and attachment, and with the idea that true enlightenment cannot be achieved through the pursuit of worldly pleasures.

Siddhartha’s journey is a reflection of the human experience, as we all must navigate the complexities of life and search for our own truths. His struggles and triumphs serve as a reminder that the path to enlightenment is not always easy, but it is worth pursuing.

The Role of the Buddha

The Buddha, referred to as “Gotama” in the book, plays a significant role in Siddhartha’s journey. Siddhartha and his friend Govinda seek out the Buddha, hoping to learn from his teachings. Govinda becomes a follower of the Buddha, but Siddhartha believes that enlightenment must be achieved through personal experience.

The Buddha’s teachings are based on the Four Noble Truths, which state that suffering is a part of life, suffering arises from craving and attachment, suffering can be overcome, and the path to the end of suffering is through the Eightfold Path. While Siddhartha respects the Buddha and his teachings, he ultimately finds his own path to enlightenment.

Writing Style

Hesse’s writing style is simple yet poetic, with a lyrical quality that draws readers into the mystical world of Siddhartha. His use of allegory and symbolism is masterful, and he creates a vivid and memorable cast of characters. The plot moves at a steady pace, and the non-linear structure adds to the novel’s dreamlike quality.

The language is accessible, making it easy for readers to engage with the novel’s philosophical themes. Hesse’s descriptions of nature and the river are particularly beautiful and add to the novel’s spiritual atmosphere.

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1. Exploration of Self-Discovery

One of the things I like about Siddhartha is the way Hesse explores the concept of self-discovery. Throughout the book, we see Siddhartha grappling with his own identity and trying to understand his place in the world.

This theme resonates with readers on a deep level, as we all struggle with questions of identity and purpose at some point in our lives. Hesse’s portrayal of Siddhartha’s journey is both relatable and inspiring, and it encourages readers to continue their own quest for self-discovery.

2. Incorporation of Eastern Philosophy and Spirituality

Another aspect of the book that I appreciate is the way Hesse incorporates elements of Eastern philosophy and spirituality. As someone who is interested in these topics, I found Siddhartha to be a fascinating exploration of concepts like samsara, enlightenment, and the interconnectedness of all things.

While Hesse takes some liberties with these ideas and doesn’t always adhere to traditional interpretations, I think he does a good job of introducing readers to these concepts in an accessible and engaging way.


1. Lack of Strong Female Characters

One of the things that I find frustrating about Siddhartha is the lack of strong female characters. While the book is primarily focused on Siddhartha’s journey, I think it would have been interesting to see more female characters with their own agency and motivations. Kamala, the courtesan who Siddhartha falls in love with, is one of the few female characters in the book, and she is primarily defined by her relationship to Siddhartha.

2. Extreme Portrayal of Detachment

Another issue I have with the book is the way Hesse portrays the concept of detachment. While detachment is an important part of many spiritual traditions, I think Hesse takes it to an extreme in Siddhartha.

The idea that detachment is the only path to enlightenment can be harmful and is not necessarily true for everyone. I think it’s important to recognize that there are many paths to spiritual growth, and that detachment is not the only way to achieve it.


Siddhartha is a profound and thought-provoking book that explores the complexities of the human experience. Hermann Hesse’s writing is simple yet powerful, and the characters and themes of the book resonate with readers of all ages.

The search for enlightenment is a universal human experience, and Siddhartha’s journey serves as a reminder that the path to understanding is never straightforward. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in spirituality, philosophy, or the pursuit of truth.

About The Author

Hermann Hesse was a writer born in Germany in 1877. He later became a citizen of Switzerland. Hesse was deeply influenced by Eastern philosophy and spirituality.

He wrote several novels, stories, and essays that are spiritually inspiring and have attracted many readers across generations. In 1946, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature for his book The Glass Bead Game.

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