Thursday, 17 January 2013

The Journey To The East - Hermann Hesse

In somewhat distilled form, The Journey To The East encapsulates many of the ideas and themes which characterize the work of Hermann Hesse, albeit with some interesting differences, and in much more enigmatic and "unorthodox" form than is generally the case with his novels.

The Journey To The East follows the attempts by the narrator "H H" to chronicle his involvement with a spiritual sect known as The League, and the "pilgrimage" referred to in the title.

The "journey" is not a trek across a geographical region or area as much as a voyage of self-discovery and enlightenment. As with many Hesse novels the precise location seems almost immaterial or academic, and secondary in importance to matters of a spiritual and cerebral nature. Indeed, members of The League have the facility to cross the boundaries of time and space, fact and fiction.

Like some of Hesse's most affecting and profound work, The Journey To The East is very brief and concise, with an economical style. Hesse seems capable of cramming more symbolism and meaning into ninety-odd pages than other authors can manage in a lifetime.  The vagaries of the plot mean that some readers may find this one a little more difficult to digest and grasp than Hesse's other stories, and it therefore demands greater concentration and analytical awareness - or at least it did for me!

As is usually the case with Hesse, the pages are a sensory feast.  One is compelled to absorb and assimilate the sights, sounds and aromas which are described in the text.  Also, Hesse's ability to make scholarship, study and erudition seem so invigorating and inviting is very much in evidence.

So what themes and topics are prominent in this novel?. Consciousnesss, human imagination, the collective versus the individual, faith and belief all feature.  The Eastern concepts of "one-ness" and "naturalness" also receive an airing.

Much of the novel centres on the disillusionment which "H H" and others begin to feel towards the League at a certain stage of the journey, his struggle to commit this to paper, and the narrator's return to the League to face judgement for his conduct and approach during the time of distress and doubt. Needless to say, there are some surprises in store...

I have to admit that The Journey To The East did not draw me in and inspire me to the same degree as the other Hesse novels which I have encountered, but nevertheless it is intriguing and thought-provoking.

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