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Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse, book review and recommendation



Narcissus and Golmund, first published in 1930, is  a critically acclaimed novely writted by Herman Hesse. It is considered a literary classic and it remains a very popular read. I've heard many people recommending novel and saying how it moved them.  I read it a few years ago, but it is still very close to my heart. There are man If you want to know why I consider it to be a work of art, read on.

“My goal is this: always to put myself in the place in which I am best able to serve, wherever my gifts and qualities find the best soil to grow, the widest field of action. There is no other goal.” ― Hermann HesseNarcissus and Goldmund

This beautifully written philosophical novel, that like most of Hesse’s work explores the theme of individual search for self-realization, was a genuine pleasure to read as well as to reflect on later on. It is one of those books that stays with you. I read it ages ago, but I can remember it without making any mental effort whatsoever. It stayed in my heart and in my mind. The language used is fairly simple, but beautiful nevertheless and powerful in the messages it delivers. The story is quite easy to follow, which is logical because it is focused mostly on one character. As the novel has to do with his own personal search for beauty, it could be said that the story of his life (and all the events that take place) isn’t the focus of this novel. I mean there is a story to follow, as philosophical as it may be, this novel is never a mere collection of meditations and essays. There is the main character whose life story we shall learn and there are also other characters that matter, that aren’t only symbols, yet it is clear from the start that the story of the protagonist’s life isn’t the only thing that matters in this novel, that there is some deeper message to be found.


“We fear death, we shudder at life's instability, we grieve to see the flowers wilt again and again, and the leaves fall, and in our hearts we know that we, too, are transitory and will soon disappear. When artists create pictures and thinkers search for laws and formulate thoughts, it is in order to salvage something from the great dance of death, to make something last longer than we do.” ― Hermann HesseNarcissus and Goldmund


The novel is less focused on events as than on mediating about the meaning of live itself. It is about spiritualty? That depends on how you see it, how you define spirituality, this is not a book that will feed you any dogma or give you a set of rules to live by. Narcissus and Goldmund is a novel that doesn’t show you the meaning of life, for such a thing is hardly possibile, but what does this novel do is show you what such a search looks like. It is about searching for meaning. We are all trying to make sense of this world we live it. We do it in our own different ways, for we’re all endowed with different temperaments and characters. Hence, there are no easy answers. I see this book as a meditation on the beauty and the power of Art. Any flaws that appear in the narrative therefore I find to be irrelevant. I think that I didn’t even experience Narcissus and Goldmund as a typical narrative. It's more philosophical in nature, more a novel of ideas, more like reading a religious text than anything else, and that is the beauty of it... or at least that is what I have found in it. What a profound novel it really is!

“We are sun and moon, dear friend; we are sea and land. It is not our purpose to become each other; it is to recognize each other, to learn to see the other and honor him for what he is: each the other's opposite and complement.” ― Hermann HesseNarcissus and Goldmund

I loved the contrast between the two main characters, Narcissus and Goldmund and the true friendship that exists between them. That was my favourite part of the book and I think it adds a lot of depth to the writing as a whole. The writer managed to create a wonderful character to contrast our protagonist. The friendship he described was very touching, but never sentimental. It is true emotional, pure and beautiful. I believe that such a friendship is a very rare thing. Perhaps what I liked most about this book is how it acknowledges the fundamental differences that can and often do exist between two people. So much more refreshing (and closer to truth) than saying we're all alike.

“...to you, differences are quite unimportant; to me, they are what matters most. I am a scholar by nature; science is my vocation. And science is, to quote your words, nothing but the 'determination to establish differences.' Its essence couldn't be defined more accurately. For us, the men of science, nothing is as important as the establishment of differences; science is the art of differentiation. Discovering in every man that which distinguishes him from others is to know him.” ― Hermann HesseNarcissus and Goldmund

Just observing that delicate friendships that oddly sometimes exist between the people who see the world in completely different way somehow felt enriching. It made me rethink great deal of things. Not all differences are differences and not all the similarities, one could say. However, one might mean different things by saying this. The meaning of words is harder to pin down than we think. We're so used to thinking in a certain way, most of us anyway, that we fail to understand that there is always something more, something behind our words that we cannot explain. This novel did a wonderful job of capturing that and I love it for it.


“Men of dreams, the lovers and the poets, are better in most things than the men of my sort; the men of intellect. You take your being from your mothers. You live to the full: it is given you to love with your whole strength, to know and taste the whole of life. We thinkers, though often we seem to rule you, cannot live with half your joy and full reality. Ours is a thin and arid life, but the fullness of being is yours; yours the sap of the fruit, the garden of lovers, the joyous pleasaunces of beauty. Your home is the earth, ours the idea of it. Your danger is to be drowned in the world of sense, ours to gasp for breath in airless space. You are a poet, I a thinker. You sleep on your mother's breast, I watch in the wilderness. On me there shines the sun; on you the moon with all the stars. Your dreams are all of girls, mine of boys—” ― Hermann HesseNarcissus and Goldmund


Take for example this friendship between Narcissus and Goldmund. From a worldly perspective, these two man have nothing in common and yet on some higher level they feel a deep connection, the kind that most people never experience...and yet the similarity between them is as important as the differences are. They are connected by the holy bond of love and understanding. This friendship adds another dimension to their character. In addition, this difference between the thinker and the artist, allows the writer to develop some really amazing reflections upon the very nature of art.

“Art was a union of the father and mother worlds, of mind and blood. It might start in utter sensuality and lead to total abstraction; then again it might originate in pure concept and end in bleeding flesh. Any work of art that was truly sublime, not just a good juggler's trick; that was filled with the eternal secret, like the master's madonna; every obviously genuine work of art had this dangerous, smiling double face, was male-female, a merging of instinct and pure spirituality.”
― Hermann Hesse, Narcissus and Goldmund

If I would care to, I could find a number of illogical things in this novel (unrealistic stories or plot developments, characterization of minor characters etc), small imperfections and weak points. However, I don’t want to. There is a reason why I don’t feel like doing it. The point is that this novel is a great piece of writing. I don't care to even notice those small flaws and the reason why I don't care to do so is because this is a work of art. Being what it is, in one way I really do feel that is perfect as it is. This is a novel in the full sense of the world, one that has a protagonist, story and characters, but it is also very philosophical and spiritual in nature. It is perfect as it is and it would be wrong to focus on any small imperfections. You don't dissect a work of art. This is a work of art, of that I’m absolutely sur.

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