Patrick Gibson's Reviews > The Journey to the East

The Journey to the East by Hermann Hesse
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Feb 08, 10

bookshelves: contemporary-literature
Read in February, 2010, read count: 5

If ever the maxim ‘not the destination but the journey’ were true, this would be the perfect example. Not even considering the fact the ‘travelers’ on this journey never make it to the East, which is in fact a metaphor or our own individual passage from solitude to the enlightenment of the communal whole. The community for this particular journey is called The League. And as they transverse through time and space encountering Don Quixote and Noah’s Ark, members of the League such as Mozart and Hugo Wolf, Paul Klee (and fictional characters from some of Hesses other novels) establish the parameters which one gains happiness by establishing faith in each other.

On the superficial level, a choirmaster named HH has been ostracized from the League for imposing his loss of faith on a servant whose sole raison d’etre was this fellowship and their planned trip to the east. Years latter, as a form of atonement, HH tries to record his experience in the form of this novel. His crisis of faith becomes an insurmountable roadblock leading him to track down the servant named Leo only to find the Journey never ended and it is going on all around him. Through a trial of abject personal abasement, he is restored through the knowledge a singular individual will never germinate into the fruits of a full life without joining the brotherhood of man through religion, science, art or any bond that exploits common vision without sacrificing individuality.

Published a few years after ‘Steppenwolf’ (and immediately following “Narcissus”) this was the end of Hesses bucolic melodramas and the beginning of the final metaphysical novels. Written in mesmerizing prose boarding on poetry, even song, the sheer exuberance of unbridled passion is exhilarating. Probably the most esoteric of his novels (‘Magister Ludi’ would be next), ‘Journey’ is profound and enigmatic.

When I first read this at around age twenty I confessed to friends I didn’t understand it—but loved the language (even in translation). A few years later (for indeed, the complete works of Hesse travel with me no matter where I go) I admitted I finally understood the plot but ‘could it really be that thin?’ Still loved the language. Now, I think I get it. Perhaps like Mahler’s Ninth Symphony it reveals itself endlessly and one must keep its presence close to the heart.
“History is rich in examples of similar kind. The whole of world history often seems to me nothing more than a picture book which portrays humanity’s most powerful and senseless desire—the desire to forget.”
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