At least Hermann Hesse had the restraint to keep his The Journey to the East about as brief as a daydream. Steppenwolf was a somewhat more modern and less spiteful Notes from Underground, and Siddhartha had a tinge of the parable, or a folk tale, leaving a pleasant sensation as I read about this on-and-off again enlightened man. For Journey to the East though, I could not pin down any purpose to this novella other than as fodder for one caught up in the mysticism of the East.
The ‘East’ is Fine and All…
It is worth noting that it is not an opposition to Eastern religions or philosophy that bogged down my experience of this book. Indeed, I find certain facets of Hinduism and subsets of Buddhism, even shards of Shintoism, to have parcels of truth within them, grains that we could learn from to assist ourselves in efforts toward becoming more complete, open-minded, and inclusive people.
No Plot, No Closure, Only Admonishment:
That being said, Hesse’s mystic, plotless trudge eastward aroused no wonder in me. As I read, I felt I was witnessing a literary exercise rather than a fully formed work meant for publication. The words and images splashed across the page were more akin to what you might find yourself producing in a creative writing class. The writing itself was still sharp, in Hesse’s Germanic fashion. But, much in the same way an étude, though a demonstration of skill, cannot match for the emotional and narrative depth of a concerto, so too does Journey to the East least much to be desired.
But, if you are in the mood for a quick dream, it is still worth considering. You won’t be wrapped up in it more than an hour or two, and when you are finished, you can go right back to carrying on with life.