Rediscovering the cult author Hermann Hesse
Hermann Hesse is one of the most widely read German-language authors; his books are world literature classics and he is one of the most famous 20th century writers. His great literary success is based on such works as Siddharta, Steppenwolf, The Glass Bead Game or the novel about a schoolboy Beneath the Wheel. His books, which have been translated into more than 70 languages, total around 150 million published copies.
Enlarge image (© picture alliance/dpa) 2012 marked the 50th anniversary of the writer’s death. Hesse, who was born on 2 July 1877 in the Black Forest town of Calw, died on 9 August 1962 aged 85 in the village of Montagnola which overlooks Lake Lugano in Switzerland. In both of these places there is a Hermann Hesse Museum dedicated to the writer and his extensive body of works: in some 60 years his wealth of writings included a dozen novels and great works of prose as well as more than 100 short stories and around 1,400 poems. He completed his last great novel and major work The Glass Bead Game in 1943. Hesse takes all of the intellectual trends that were important to him in his life and works them into the story about Josef Knecht, a master of the esoteric glass bead game. He creates a utopian-humanistic counter-model to the ideas of National Socialism which were prevalent in Germany at that time and which he detested. The novel became a cult book of the late 1960s counter-culture.
The writer’s books still hold a special fascination for readers around the world. One decisive reason for this is that when Hesse wrote books, he homed in on the key questions of human existence. The 50th anniversary of his death also reawoke German media interest. For instance, the news magazine Der Spiegel gave Hesse a prominent place in its provocative cover illustration of 6 August 2012. The eight-page title story concludes that Hesse is more relevant than ever. It says that his great themes still move many people today: the life design of the individual, the protection of nature or the search for a greater purpose in life than simply consuming.
The uninterrupted significance of Hermann Hesse for continuing generations of readers is reflected in a book recently published by Suhrkamp: Hermann Hesse antwortet … auf Facebook provides the writer’s answers to questions and thoughts that Hesse readers have entered into the “Hermann Hesse antwortet” page on Facebook.