When I was navigating through the various lists of classics, I’ve realized that English-speaking world has a definite version of what they regard as ‘classics.’ For example, about 90% of the books in the Time Magazine or Modern Library’s lists were written by authors I’ve never heard of–William Faulkner, Malcolm Lowry, or James Boldwin? Yes, it might be because I was not born into an English-speaking world but those names are not really as stimulating as Alexandre Dumas, Pearl S. Buck or Leo Tolstoy who are generally considered as among the greatest writers in their language as well as world literature. I know it’s somewhat fuzzy to make the distinction but I would definitely count on the Nobel-Prize-winning German author Hermann Hesse as the ‘world writer’ who could evoke the common feelings from anyone regardless of their cultural background.
I bet most of the Canadian or American schools wouldn’t teach Hermann Hesse’s illuminating adolescent tales like Under the Wheel or Demian as much as Catcher In the Rye. As soon as I grabbed the copy of Demian in the BMV Books, the largest used-bookstore in Toronto, I was startled how natural and fluent the prose was even if not originally written in English.
Below are some of the basic information about the book:
Original Title: Die Geschichte von Emil Sinclairs Jugend (The Story of Emil Sinclair’s Youth)
Publication: 1919, Germany
Translated by: Michael Roloff and Michael Lebeck
Page number: 158 pages (including introduction by Thomas Mann and biography of Hermann Hesse)
Opening lines: I cannot tell my story without reaching a long way back. If it were possible I would reach back farther still–into the very first years of my childhood, and beyond them into distant ancestral past.
– Hermann Hesse (1877-1962) received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946.
– Demian is a typical Bildungsroman, a literary term for a story that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood.
– Demian was published under the pseudonym “Emil Sinclair” but Hesse was later revealed to be the author.