Peter Camenzind

Sometimes not having any expectations from a book helps. I picked up Herman Hesse’s Peter Camenzind, on a recommendations from a friend, mainly because it was thin. I was anticipating busy weeks ahead and didn’t want to chew on a large book. I’m glad that I didn’t know, till I was well past the half-way mark, that Hesse was a Nobel winner, further freeing me from the expectations syndrome.

The size, however, proved pretty deceptive, for Hesse (and in all fairness the translator, although I’ve no way of judging the competence of the translation) writes with a simplicity that’s as deceptive.

Peter Camenzind is one of those stories of growing up, only the growing up has a slightly different dimension. But what struck me wasn’t the story itself — for there is hardly a story to tell here — rather the way it is told. And there are very few stories which have managed to strike such a harmonious chord with me. The narration is almost poetic, and yet there is no ostentatious ornamentation.

The novel is a first person account of the eponymous character, who struggles through his youth struggling to find his identity as an artist, and at another level trying to come to terms with his other identity — as a human being who loves nature. This almost universal struggle takes him to different places, and his life is interwoven with different people — falling in and out of love, finding and losing cherished friendships …

The stories of his unrequited loves also keep on changing the shades, another dimension of growth — not at all disjoint from his holistic growth. It’s this evolution of the psychology of the central character that really sets this book apart for me – although I’m sure there are many others that fall in league (The Portrait of Artist …, obviously comes to the mind — although I’ve not read it yet). It lends the simple story, and even simpler narration a depth that’s comparable to the very best of this genre. It’s one of those books that when it ends, has altered you in fundamental ways, and yet it’s hard to tell anyone what exactly is it about — the same problem that this review had to contend with. I regret that I cannot do justice to something as subtle…


10 thoughts on “Peter Camenzind

  1. anonymous says:

    … and why do you think you “failed” ? i thought the review had just enough juice in it to make it interesting without divulging any plot details.

    yes, “portrait ..” comes to mind after reading your post. and interesting coincidence – while on the topic of books about “growing up”, i had just recommended ardeshir vakil’s “beach boy” to SiLo a couple of days ago. vakil’s book about a parsi kid growing up in bombay is not even in the same universe as hesse, but charming book all the same.


  2. anonymous says:

    Hesse is dear to me not because his grandfather Gundert created the malayalam script in a non-descript printing press and wrote the first formal grammer book (and malayalam-english dictionary in 1872), but he wrote Sidhartha, one of the best book ever. This is not even a recco 🙂

    Narayan, the boatman who traversed across the river of time between wisdom and transcience taught the world the essence of Indian thought. If you have not, its time to read Sidhartha.

    But I must confess that I have not read Camenzind, even though I can claim many rereads of sidhartha.


  3. asuph says:

    Thanks Rajesh,

    No i haven’t read Sidhartha, but that was already on the reading list, your reco does give it a sense of urgency, though :). And thanks for the trivia about his grandfather.


  4. asuph says:

    i think i failed bcos the review didn’t come out the way i wanted it. good to know it’s not a total failure tho..

    this vakil’s book reminds me of Trying to Grow (Firdaus Kanga?)… an excellent excellent read. I think we discussed it before?


  5. anonymous says:

    at this rate, i’ll never be able to catch up with you… i am getting too many book recos from you.
    subtle harmonious poetic… me want to read this too! specially since it struck YOU in this way 🙂

  6. anonymous says:

    OK, i think this will be the next one on the list. “Beach Boy”, “Siddhartha” and this. Lemme see when I finish these “Growing Up” stories.

  7. anonymous says:

    I love Hesse. there are many reasons. Narcissus and Goldmund is one of them. Steppenwolf is another. Siddharth, I have read many times, but I have yet to read “The glass bead game” One day!!!!!

    I think Steppenwolf starts where Peter… a way. Even though I haven’t read Peter, this is an intuitive feel.

    Also, to read Hesse and not read Mann, is a sacrilege, as I have recently discovered. They are, as someone pointed out to me, a little bit like left brain and right brain appraches to same realities, truly friends..


  8. mrdes says:

    Funny how I feel the same about doing injustice to the novel with my review:). If you like this, you will like “Narcissus and Goldmund” and “Siddhartha” even more. I hope this has not offered you too much expectations.

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