Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Book Review: The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse

The Glass Bead Game is no simple game but a rigorous study and practice of culmination of many subjects such as Mathematics, Music and Philosophy. It is the synthesis of all the sciences and arts existed on this world. It is taught to a chosen few in the elite school of Castalia.

Joseph Knecht, protagonist of this novel, is selected by the The Music Master for his talents in music to study at the elite school. His passion and commitment to the study of the Glass Bead Game attracts the attention of the management who runs the elite school of Castalia. After his studies, he joins the service of The Order as part of management in the same school he studied. He goes on an assignment to another institution to advocate them on the game and the success he receives there catapults him into the hierarchical top position known as Magister Ludi in his home institution. Though he has risen to top position, he thinks the foundation of school he serves are not strong as he thought them to be and The Order having political inclinations would not suit well for the development of glass bead game or the culture of their school. He has some driving force to leave behind all this to go to the external world. He has a friend who came as guest student into the elite school when Knecht was a student. After long and painful thought process, Knecht decides to leave Castalia and go to his friend to tutor his son. After reaching there, his life comes to a swift end as he drowns in a brief swimming race with his student.

As the novel ends, there begins the posthumous works of Knecht. A set of poems and three short stories (or biographies) which Knecht wrote based on his imagination of what he was in his previous lives. These three stories under “Three Lives” titled Rainmaker, Father Confessor and Indian Life are good reads than the main novel itself. They have strong reflection psychic functions and are capable of changing one’s perspective (like the author’s earlier novel Siddhartha). They can enhance one’s understanding of spiritual life and how the transformation takes place. Rainmaker is about the tragic end of the person who predicts rain to help his community to begin their agricultural activities. Father Confessor is about the discussions between two Christian hermits on understanding of their role in life. In Indian Life author explains the concept of Maya in the form of a life story.

For those who have read Herman Hesse’s works Siddhartha and Steppenwolf, this book would appear to be continuation of his writing mold, but more philosophical.

Herman Hesse was born in Germany in 1877 but moved to Switzerland during the First World War, the times during which arts and literature were oppressed. This novel symbolically represents that with the protagonist moving away from where he belonged protesting the change in culture.

All of Hesse’s novels have spiritual inclinations and author dissects the process of spiritual transformation with a lens of psycho-analysis. He was awarded Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946.