As part of my 2016 Classics Reading Challenge, I’m going to talk about the first classic I’ve read this year, Gertrude by Hermann Hesse.
WHEN I Discovered This Classic
Ever since I fell in love with Hesse’s writing (from quotes taken from Demian and Siddhartha), I began to look for his other books on Goodreads and I stumbled upon this one.
WHY I Chose to Read It
Hesse is my favorite author because for some reason, I find that my thoughts resonate in his writing. I also love his lyrical style in writing that is beautiful and even breathtaking at times. This is my third Hesse book so far, the first being Siddhartha while the second being Narcissus and Goldmund. I was looking for something less philosophical, so I picked Gertrude because Hesse’s earlier works seem to be more easy to digest than the later ones. This novel also takes music as its theme, as it tells a story about the life of a (fictional) composer and his relationship with two friends that inspired him to compose his one and only opera. I love music, particularly classical music, and I’ve never read any book that revolves around it, so… yeah.
WHAT Makes It A Classic
Actually, I’m not really sure it’s a classic, but hey, it’s written by a dead Nobel Prize winner so why not? lol. It’s less popular than Hesse’s more popular works such as The Glass Bead Game (which earned him the Nobel Prize) or Steppenwolf, but like other literary works, the story is painfully realistic and therefore teaches me many things about life in general.
WHAT I Thought of This Classic
I have mixed feelings about Gertrude. I love how simple and beautiful the language is, and how the narrator himself told the story from his youth to his adult life. However, it is a difficult book for me to read through. This book was not written in a joyful tone, but rather in a sad one, like that of a sad, cloudy day. Despite its beauty, this book did not uplift my spirit, and only becomes positive in temporary heightened moments when the characters find happiness through music, or experience passion in love.
A quote from the book sums it up better:
That life is difficult, I have often bitterly realized. I now had further cause for serious reflection. Right up to the present I have never lost the feeling of contradiction that lies behind all knowledge. My life has been miserable and difficult, and yet to others, and sometimes to myself, it has seemed rich and wonderful. Man’s life seems to me like a long, weary night that would be intolerable if there were not occasionally flashes of light, the sudden brightness of which is so comforting and wonderful that the moments of their appearance cancel out and justify the years of darkness
Even though it’s titled Gertrude, this novel isn’t really about her. It’s more about the life of the main character, Kuhn, whose thoughts on life made me wonder about my own. The life of being a musician and composer is very interesting to read. The main characters of this story also are all well-rounded and progressed very well throughout the book.
Aside from love and music, the book also talks about other things, e.g. the difference between youth and maturity, profound sadness that is caused by unrequited feelings or simply one’s view of the world, and happiness. The deep talks got me engaged, and I felt like I learned many things about life by going through Kuhn’s experience.
WILL It Stay A Classic
Since the writer is a legendary author, I guess it will!
WHO I’d Recommend It To
People who love music and like to reflect on life.