Category Archives: Nobel Prize


If Siddartha was a turning point in literature for me, then Demian is a lynch pin. I was originally drawn to Hermann Hesse for Steppenwolf, and in waiting to pick up my physical copy of that, ended up with Siddartha because it was free on Audible for members. That compelling tale of spirituality completely changed my perception of Hesse, even though I didn’t know much about him before. I started Demian with a thirst for more of Hesse’s views and philosophy. For a bit of background, he was raised in a Swabian Pietist household. Apparently, Pietists value deep thought, and so arrange their lifestyles to prioritize it. Hesse’s grandparents served at a mission in India, where his mother was born. His grandfather had an extensive library, from which young Hermann was invited to learn. This Nobel Prize winning German author valued authenticity, self-appraisal, and spiritual growth.

Essentially, he’s right up my alley.

I’ve been thinking of my pursuit of spiritual enlightenment as separate from my love of books until Hesse. Of course someone was bound to walk this path before me, I’m just glad I found this particular author. Akin to when I discovered Phillip Pullman late last year, it is reassuring to find a like mind. In this case too, it is fitting that this realization comes with Demian. A significant theme in this novel is mentoring and learning from those whom started down your path ahead of you.

Demian is the story of a boy. As the story begins, he is what society would expect, until the magnetic personality of a mysteriously enlightened young man opens his eyes to another way of viewing existence. The boy, Emil Sinclair, experiences the opening of his third-eye over the course of the story. With guidance from the young man, Max Demian, Sinclair explores what this means. They speak of a very non-Christian idea of accepting both extremes of light and dark within the self. They talk of a God that supports thoughts of servitude and rebellion, politeness and irreverence, good and evil. From what I gleaned of this, the concept is perfect balance.

So here is partially where my own adjacent journey came into play. I have been studying astrology for several months now. I went from knowing my sun sign, to developing a more complex understanding of the intricacies of planetary alignments, zodiacs in houses, and the incredibly detailed relationships of celestial bodies related to every single human being. This concept of balance characterizes the sign of Libra (which lies on the cusp of my first house of self). For me, this element of Demian resonates beautifully.

Coincidentally, Hermann Hesse had Libra on the cusp of his ninth house, the part of his astrological natal chart that corresponds to philosophy and spirituality. He had Sagittarius (the zodiac related spirituality) in his twelfth house of the subconscious… our link to the deep and difficult to access truths of life and the way the world works. Hesse’s moon was in Pisces, which relates to mysticism, empathy, and an intrinsically acute intuition. He and I differ practically everywhere in our charts, though my moon is in Pisces too.

I can’t quite say that Demian is an exceptional work of literature. The pacing is a little hit and miss, though my perception of this may have something to do with only getting to listen to it a few minutes a day. It is rather short, so someone able to dedicate a more sustained approach may experience it differently. The prose is fair and the plot sound. I’ll even venture to say that the characters are a bit one-dimensional and repetitive. However, if you approach this novel for its’ ideas, individuals looking for new patterns of thought may enjoy this deeply nonetheless.

For my own part, I am going to pursue Nietzsche next. Hesse was in part inspired by this German philosopher, critic, composer, writer, and philologist. There are quotes by Nietzsche that I already know I like. In this, I hope to delve deeper into these concepts of balancing the dark macabre and lightness of spirit. Demian is a welcome change amidst the ideas I’ve thus far read. Even though it doesn’t make my favorites list for the sum of its’ parts, I do believe it transcends this.


Siddhartha has been on my radar for about a year now. It has been showing up on various reading lists and recommendations often enough that my curiosity was piqued. Of classical literature, this is one of the shorter pieces. It was written in 1922 by Herman Hesse; German short story author, poet, essayist, music-lover and painter.

Other works that Hesse penned include Steppenwolf, Demian, and the Glass Bead Game. He won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1946. Siddhartha is the first book of his that I have read, though I have a copy of Steppenwolf waiting for me on my bookshelf. I am even more excited to pick it up now than I was before, while there is a strong chance I’ll end up with a copy of the Glass Bead Game, too. Hesse wrote about spirituality and authenticity. He was well-studied in the theological writings of Goethe, Lessing, Schiller, Nietzche, and the Greek mythologies.

Siddhartha follows the lifetime of a young Indian boy in his path to be coming and old wise man. It is insightful, enlightening, and even comforting. By the end, I had the sense that regardless of what happens in life, there was cause to be at peace with every moment. I would recommend this book to anyone with even a passing interest in self discovery and existentialism.

What is the true path to becoming one with the universe? Through pursuit of gurus and guides? Service? Long journeys? Communing with nature? Just letting go and radically accepting whatever happens to you? Siddhartha explores these pathways and offers some insight into each. My favorite part involved speaking to a river, and the idea that for as long as you are decided upon searching for something… you’ll never find it.

The Gulag Archipelago: Volume One

I have not picked up a nonfiction so dense as The Gulag Archipelago since my genetics textbook. After two days of dedicated reading, I have made it 164 pages into volume one. (If this were Steven King, I’d have shelved over a thousand pages to my done pile, happily, and with an itch to replace the two books I read with new ones.) Much scarier than King though is this retelling of soviet life in the mid 1900s. Not that I don’t believe in things like cryptids and telekinesis mind you, but because the prevalence of terror and abuse in Russia was staggering.

I’ll avoid the details. Those of you whom would rather not shy away from it are more than welcome to pick up a copy and see it in Solzhenitsyn’s own words. After all, it was by the details that this author so severely undermined Stalin and the fascist regime of his home country. (Isn’t it weird how humans have to be shocked into paying attention?) If you are shy, but nonetheless curious, you can also try One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. This short story was tame enough to make it passed the government censors, and was also written by Solzhenitsyn.

So why is it that someone who will consume a book like hot dogs at an eating challenge suddenly takes it slow? First off, I never realized how many different forms of secret police existed in Russia. I challenge you to Google “soviet secret police agencies”. It all started with the Cheka, or Vecheka, also known as the All-Russian Extraordinary Committee to Combat Counter-Revolution and Sabotage. Five years later the Cheka evolved into the GPU (State Political Directorate) which was part of the NKVD (People’s Commiserate for Internal Affairs). One year after that, the GPU became the OGPU (Joint State Political Directorate), and then the GUGB (Main Directorate for State Security). The GUGB of the NKVD is separated out to the NKGB (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs). The NKGB was merged back into the NKVD, then separated out, then merged, separated, merged, separated… from 1941 to 1946. There was the MGB, KI, MVD, and finally the KGB. I started a notebook and under “Secret Police”, jotted out a whole bunch of letter soup.

Second, there are terms used freely that had meanings I wasn’t familiar with: Organs and insects, for example. Organs were individuals employed by the secret police, as though it was a biological entity that was effecting its’ will throughout the populace by forming new growths. Insects were individuals whose alleged purpose was to subvert the government. This infestation of insects was the basis upon which many citizens were exterminated under Stalin’s rule. I had to learn that “wrecking” was an actual offense in the Soviet Union criminal code. “Wrecking” has been translated in English to mean sabotage, but also, inflicting damage, harm, and undermining. Plainly stated, it was a way to imprison anyone guilty of, suspected of, or even innocent of not embodying Stalin’s ideal.

“Things were said innocently, but they weren’t listened to innocently”

-The Gulag Archipelago

Learning new terms that were heretofore completely unfamiliar with was my third challenge.

Extrajudicial Reprisal: The same body is in charge of investigation, arrest, interrogation, prosecution, trial, and execution of the verdict.

Social Prophylaxis: Removal of the intelligentsia, or educated persons amidst the populace. (We don’t want anyone thinking that what the government is doing is wrong.)

Kulak: A term originally coined to mean a “miserly, dishonest, rural trader” which was manipulated to refer to all those whom hired workers (e.g. had some standing in society), and then further adulterated to mean “all strong peasants” in general. This has been one of my favorite terms, because I think it examples how tradition can be used to manipulate a population into conferring historical prejudice against a convenient new target. (Chinua Achebe addresses this concept in Things Fall Apart, in explaining how religious missionaries utilized tribal beliefs to convert the natives.)

Tenner: Ten years imprisonment.

Article 58: The RSFSR (Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic) criminal code under which arrests were made.

Section 10: The section of Article 58 under which could be creatively applied to most any individual or circumstance, and referred to crimes regarding counterrevolutionary propaganda or agitation.

Unless you are an anti-government citizen, then it’s a tenner under Section 10 for you.

What I have found most intriguing about The Gulag Archipelago thus far are the euphemisms and the explanations of how this exposition of cruelty was allowed to commence. For instance, the verdict of “ten years without the right to correspond” meant that the accused was already dead. It would have been implacable to admit that an organ had shot a suspected insect whom was actually someone’s family member, so they found a different way to phrase why no letters would be forthcoming. Much of the beginning of Volume 1 is about uncertainty. After a tenner, maybe the accused didn’t write because they died in the gulag. Maybe they were exiled. Maybe they were set free, only to be sent to a different gulag. Nobody knew what tomorrow would bring. Solzhenitsyn describes it as a game of Solitaire where there are three piles in which to place any card: Arrest, Release, and Exile. To maintain imbalance, any given person could be randomly placed in any pile, at any time.

I couldn’t imagine living that way, though I believe that is Solzhenitsyn’s point.

A map of the Russian gulag system – There really were this many.

I will soon embark on chapter four (Yup, I’m only on four.) and learn more about the guards (or Bluecaps) of the gulag system. I’ll suspect that I will learn about how they were people too, placed in an impossible situation and struggling to find some way in which to survive the regime. I imagine their positions of authority will lead to further shady dealings. Solzhenitsyn states early on that he felt the time to cry out against injustice was at the very beginning. And yet, those whom did, died. Those who did not were carried away in a swift, deadly current of fate and circumstance. How much choice did any given individual have? What made the difference between a University student invited to NKVD school, and intelligentsia? How did anyone manage, when the constant stress and terror of being abducted in the middle of the night was not only plausible, but commonplace?

These are some of the questions I hope to gain answers to. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was exiled from Russia for his work, but also awarded the Nobel Prize because of it, I plan to work at it for as long as it takes.