Review: Demian

Demian by Hermann Hesse
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This may be one that grows on me as the ideas it planted take root and blossom. For the moment, though, I was considerably less impressed with Demian in comparison to Siddhartha, which I loved.

This novel starts out with young Emil Sinclair making up a story about stealing apples, only to find himself at the mercy of a bully who wants to tell the farmer who’s been stealing apples. Living under this threat nearly ruins young Sinclair, but then a new, slightly older boy named Max Demian comes to the school and realizes Sinclair’s problem. Demian puts an end to the bullying. Then a lot of rather boring stuff happens, such as Sinclair going to prep school, where he nearly drinks himself out of his education, he meets a dark organist, falls in love with Demian’s hot mama, then goes to fight in World War One, where he gets his first kiss.

The theme of the story is basically breaking free of dependence and finding independence, as evidenced in this beautiful quote:

“The bird fights its way out of the egg. The egg is the world. Who would be born must first destroy a world. The bird flies to God. That God’s name is Abraxas.”

What I disliked most about the story was that it was past tense and told passively. I did this and then this and Demian did this thing and his mother said that and I felt happy. Seldom is the reader really let in to feel what Sinclair feels and I think the story suffers for it. That said, Hesse puts together some sentences that really sing and shows the depth of his thinking and the scope of his ideas. This is very much an idea novel more than a plot or story novel.

I can see myself re-reading Demian at some point simply for the quote I copied above. I think it may be a short novel that requires more than one reading to fully appreciate it.

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