Demian by Herman Hesse - A Review

Spoiler: I just don't get it.

So I read this book after hearing it was an inspiration behind BTS' Blood Sweat and Tears release. Here are my thoughts on what I read.

Demian is a German novel first published in 1919 first under the pseudonym Emil Sinclair, named after the main character as if written as an autobiography before the author was revealed to be Herman Hesse (author of Siddhartha and The Glass Bead).

                As mentioned before, Demian follows the main character of Emil Sinclair from childhood and through his life. Demian isn’t genre fiction like other books I’d typically read, but rather Literary Fiction and I feel the main point of the novel is a criticism of morality and conformation. I could see at first how this book might be popular – it gives a special meaning to those of us who are different, those of us who don’t fit in or sacrifice happiness to be one with the crowd.

                Emil Sinclair at first describes himself as his parents’ pride and joy – a well behaved little boy who never does any wrong. When he becomes mixed up with a bully, however, he then first encounters the enigmatic Demian who scares the bully off and teaches Emil some small little life lessons. It’s from this point that young Emil appears to develop what escalates into a life-long obsession with the character and begins to question a lot of what he’d accepted as his life before. Put simply, he begins to ‘rebel’.

                Everything to Emil relates back to Demian or something Demian says. Every temptation, every sin, every truth. Emil’s obsession is taken with him when he’s sent to a boarding school, where Emil discovers painting and tries to draw originally a girl. He fails at drawing the girl, but succeeds in other fronts and produces a image of a bird breaking from a egg. The bird could be seen as Emil – who’s trying to break out of this constricting egg in the form of parents and school and people around him who keep him down and submissive.

                There was a light religious background to this novel but I always found myself questioning my interpretation of it – Demian gave me strong anti-conformation feelings, and that too included conformation in religion. Satan and sin were mentioned, and Emil Sinclair says on several occasions that his god is named Abraxas; both god and Satan. Sin wasn’t a sin with Emil’s god and so it seemed strongly to me as if Herman Hesse was loudly calling out religion in this novel and comparing not only the Christian god but all gods as one complete form including Satan – there is no separate god and satan.

                Not terribly much happens in this book – Demian grows up, he goes to university, he experiments with drink and thinks too much. That’s because the main focus is the flowering inner turmoil of Sinclair which I wasn’t a fan of. There was too much going through Sinclair’s head and I didn’t think it was necessary. It was overdone and maybe I’m lacking appreciation for written visualisation of common human struggles but Emil Sinclair was too much of a thinker for my liking. That’s all the book was – something small would happen, Emil Sinclair would think for chapters on end about it and you’d see how he’d arrive at one conclusion or another and then act in another small action, and then more thinking. Just not my cup of tea.

                In this book without the thinking it would have been two pages long. So maybe this book wasn’t for me, but I do appreciate the little lessons it had to give – and whether those were interpreted right or not, I’m still not sure.

                I’m not sure if it’s fair to judge the writing as this book is a translation of the original German text. Judging the translation, however, I did feel commas were in abundance and often broke up my reading. I did wonder whether this was for effect to reflect the continual expanding thoughts of the protagonist that never seemed to end but I eventually just found it hard to read and sometimes a little long winded.

                Other than that, I had very little thoughts on this book, because I found there was little to form an opinion on. It’s a relatively short book – thank goodness for that.

                In relation to Blood, Sweat, and Tears – my entire reason for buying this book – I can only just see the connection. I found the main themes of Demian to be anti-establishment, anti-conformation, individuality, and all that pleasant stuff – well, that’s what a lot of BTS songs are about. Specifically in relation to Blood, Sweat, and Tears I can see it with the themes of temptation and sin. I did see that Demian has been an inspiration from the start for BTS, and that wouldn’t surprise me now I think about it. It’s just a shame I couldn’t share the same appreciation the mastermind behind BTS’ concepts had for the book.

                I’m curious to read more of Hesse’s writing, however I hear Demian is one of his best books and although that’s subjective I’m not sure how hopeful I should be.

                That’s my little review for this book done. Wouldn’t recommend for those who prefer Genre Fiction because this books of 100 pages drags longer than the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Has anyone else read it? Let me know your opinions.

NEXT BOOK TO REVIEW: I’m planning on reading a few things, namely the Watersong books, some I mentioned in previous blogs, and a few new purchases of things I'd never usually read. I also plan to review a K-Drama or two soon, so look out for those.

Happy 2017, Movella!

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