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4.6 out of 5 stars29
4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 11 November 2011
Taking the reader back to medieval Germany, Hesse's beautiful picaresque story renders the suffering and search for meaning of Goldmund, a young man who's aesthtical and wordly sensiblities prompted him to leave his education at Catholic monastery school under the influence of his devoted and wise teacher, Narcissus. Goldmund's wayward journey leads him to a series of extreme pleasures (mostly sexual) and unforgettable pains (hunger, guilt and plague). Once he comes across a carved wooden statue which spiritually alluded him to his long deceased mother, Goldmund discovers the wonders of creating and the power of art...

Hesse's contemplative prose flows assuredly with a glowing aptitude to conjure complicated feelings and images without betraying the fluidity of the storytelling. More than just another fine bildungsroman, "Narcissus and Goldmund" leaves us knowing the world and accepting its ceaseless vicissitude as it is and our place within it. For those of you who got hooked on the works of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Jung and wished to extend to a more creative literature, I recommend picking up this book for it's intensely emotional impact. As for the cinephiles I would compare the book to Bergman's THE SEVENTH SEAL and Tarkovsky's ANDERI RUBLEV, both of which share many similarities with this particular novel by Hesse. Read, feel, think and enjoy.
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on 3 June 2007
I'll begin by saying that I haven't read any other of Hesse's books. After reading Narcissus and Goldmund, I can hardly wait. However, I find it hard to imagine how anything he has written could possibly surpass the singing, joyously spiritual prose that lies on every page of this effort. A book that positively resounds with the twin elements of ecstasy and grief, of life and death, of light and dark, it is the ultimate tribute to life and all its incredible avenues. Sprawling yet succinct, philosophical yet free spirited, it is, in two words, life affirming.

It is unusual for such a modestly sized book to tackle such large, important themes so effectively, and so excitingly. In Goldmund, we can all see ourselves, or can all see what we might be, if we had the gumption. He is one the best illustrated characters, best illustrated concepts, to ever grace our pages. His artistic and amorous wanderings are delightfully redolent of the very joy of being. A primitive, soulful vagabond, blessed with an artist's mind, and cursed with an artist's depression, he wheels through life, from woman to woman, from valley to valley, from light to dark. Narcissus, his mentor and the thinker, bookends the book in a pleasingly structural manner, his brooding intellectualism, and peaceful scholarly outlook providing the perfectly balanced contrast, to impetuous, free-spirited Goldmund.

A veritable mine of inspiration awaits the sensitive reader, in what is surely Hesse's crowning achievement. To read the poetic, fable-like prose is to gain insight like no other, to be inspired time and time again, to be uplifted and to be guided. It is a book to which doubtless you will return.
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on 1 July 2003
This tale is essentially a diagnosis of human existence and the way individuals respond to it. Without death, says Hesse, life is either an impossibility or an absurdity. It is death that gives value to life and life that gives value to death and the shortness and brevity of life gives it both its absurd insignificance and its amazing importance. The genius of Hesse lies in his ability to capture both the horror and the beauty of life within the same novel: to conjure with the lyricism of a magician the hope out of hopelessness, the joy out of despair and the will to live out of the seeming absurdity of beings born to die and return to dust. Life is indeed meaningless but it is this very meaninglessness that gives life a meaning, as being aware of the finite and absurd nature of life we are, instead of being constrained by a pre-ordained “meaning”, forced to find value in our lives. Life is a series of (seeming) contrasts: sadness to happiness, life to death (the absence of life), masculine to feminine…etc, etc. This is the conception of existence that Narziss attempts to shun by withdrawing into the realm of the mind and Goldmund the world of non-rationalised passion. Both are attempts to escape the essential reality of existence. In this sense Narziss lives like an ascetic – fasting and learning to overcome and negate his sensual nature – and Goldmund the hedonist – sleeping with gipies, wandering roads and plagued towns – and allowing himself to be governed by his senses, seeking no overreaching logic for sheer, unmitigated pleasure and pain. The emotional (our feminine quality) and the intellect (our masculine quality) are the two driving forces behind all that we do, and unlike Narziss and Goldmund, who attempt to adhere to one of the two extremes, Hesse seems to think it is better for us to find a balance between the two: which, in my opinion, is shown by both characters failing in their respective attempts to take mastery over life. It is a complex novel, which would require more thought than I have had time to put into it to fully understand what is being said. Where the novel fails is from a literary (as opposed to philosophical) angle. The prose is flowery – albeit way below the poetic genius of Steppenwolf – but, as there are no descriptions of character or scene, it is impossible to read it as anything but a novel of types and ideas. This is understandable and insightful. It is understandable because Hermann Hesse was not Stephen King: this book is not intended to entertain but to encourage self-reflection, to get people to examine the way they are living, not to give them a few hours cheap entertainment. It is insightful because the book works on an intellectual rather than an emotional level, it appeals to the Narziss in us rather than the Goldmund.
Another amazing work of art, which I have come to expect of Hesse.
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on 10 May 2012
Personally i loved this book, i found it quite cathartic!

An easy read yet quite intense at parts; gripping. I found the ending bitter-sweet yet wholesome...which is why this is one of my favourites. I found that the aim was not to impress or wow the reader with absurdities as many current books intent to, in my opinion. It was rather a growing process for both the reader and the characters.

If you feel like going on an adventure that will leave you wanting more then this may just be the book for you!
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on 2 January 2015
This novel must be one of best ever written. Essentially, it is about a wanderer who is compelled to express the artistic beauty within him, despite the often ugliness of the world he ranges through. Hess's relating of the tale is magnificent - brilliantly paced, wonderfully described. This book puts many of our literary award-winners of today to shame.
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on 30 May 2011
I'm afraid I tend to grimace at the thought of rating great works of literature. It's fine and dandy to mark popular culture from 1 to 5 ... but frankly that doesn't work so well with masterpieces. So here my 5 stars are for the 1932 English translation by Dunlop. Certainly there are more recent translations - one from the late 1960s and the highly respected 1994 version by Vennewitz - but for me this, the first English language rendering of Hesse's extraordinary novel, remains the most satisfying; the one that most accurately reflects the spirit of the text.

The story takes the idea of the fragmented self - as in Plato - and runs logically through a narrative account of the search for completeness, framed within the medieval realm of theistic scholacism and baudy earth-bound existence. But what is often overlooked in this work is Hesse's treatise on beauty. This is a central theme yet it seems to be all too readily subsumed. But it is Hesse's idea of beauty that functions as reconciliation - as a possible route to completeness. At its core there's an initially Kantian thread running through the work, but Hesse radically overhauls the rather obvious problems of Kantian Idealism, as though seeking a further moment, a moment beyond judgment that is essentially humanist. Thus the judgment of beauty does not end in the demand for consensus, but in the acceptance and reconciliation of difference. And this acceptance reaches its climax in Narziss and Goldmund's final encounter ... often interpreted as an expression of human failure (as evidence of human incompleteness). Actually I think the opposite occurs and this is why Narziss and Goldmund remains one of the great, if not the greatest novel about the nature of love.

Little wonder that Hesse was such a major influence upon what I suppose may as well be summarised as the great thinkers of the twentieth century.
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on 13 March 2008
As with the other comment on this book, this is also the first Hesse i've read, but surely not the last. Really impressed, if i had read a page at random in Whsmith's i think might have put it back down, as a times it reads like a fairytale and you do need to suspend everything you know about the modern age to fully get into the spirit of the book,

but then when you do that, you find a resonance in everything that happens to our trusted wayfarer, Goldmund, and you start to scratch beneath the surface of Hesse's story, and its sentiment keeps unfolding before you on the page. Then you're at the end, and you need to go back and check for what you missed.

And Graham Coxon's introduction is really sweet as well.
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on 3 November 2014
Absoulte classic of the archetypal paradigm of the soul, set in the context of love and knowledge between lifetime friends.
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on 30 April 2008
Although I have to confess that Hesse is my favourite author, this is my absolute favourite book ever. Hesse is an absolute master writer and his tales can often live in your head for a long while after you close the covers; while they are open, each line captures you. This book is, in my opinion, one of his very best and a brilliant view into aspects of the pale psyche too.

In all, most highly recommended!
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on 14 May 2008
I agree with the other reviewers, a masterpiece. A book to grip you, make you think, make you breathe deep, make you cry, laugh, feel the pain and ecstasy of Narziss and Goldmund. A book of the Middle Ages but of all time also. Thrilling and violent and yet gentle.......

If there were 50 stars I'd give it that!
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