Hermann Hesse was born in the Black Forest in 1877. After years of surviving at odd jobs, he published his first novel, Peter Camenzind, in 1904. In 1911, he made a seminal trip to India, where his parents had been missionaries. His ensuing interest in ancient Eastern cultures, and his years of psychoanalysis under Carl Jung’s assistant J.B. Lang, led to his novel Siddhartha (1922). Hesse believed in the need for each human to realize a spiritual self-realization, or Jungian “individuation.”
A pacifist through both world wars, Hesse wrote angrily and poignantly against German militarism and anti-Semitism, and was labeled a traitor. His breakthrough novel was Demian (1919), which presented the personal division between bourgeois decorum and sensual freedom, a theme that was more conclusively addressed in Der Steppenwolf (1927). After two unhappy marriages, in 1931 he married Ninon Dolbin, who was Jewish, and began to work on Das Glasperlenspiel (The Glass Bead Game). After receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946, Hesse published no more novels, but between 1945 and his death in 1962 he wrote some 50 poems, among them the three that Strauss set to music. He died in his sleep of cerebral hemorrhage at the age of eighty-five.
damion searls writes fiction, criticism, and biography, has translated many classic twentieth-century authors, including Proust, Rilke, Robert Walser, Nescio, Ingeborg Bachmann, and Thomas Bernhard. His translation of Hans Keilson’s Comedy in a Minor Key was a New York Times Notable Book and a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. Searls received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2012; he lives in Brooklyn, New York.
MAY 2013 | Fiction
a new translation from the German by Damion Searls. Out now from Penguin.
To tell my story, I have to start very far back. In fact, if I could, I would have to go back much fartherto the very first years of my childhood, or even farther back, into the distant reaches of my origins.