Hermann Hesse's voyage to the East Indies, recorded in journal entries and other writings translated into English for the first time, describes the experiences that influenced his greatest works.
“I knew but few of the trees and animals that I saw around me by name, I was unable to read the Chinese inscriptions, and could exchange only a few words with the children, but nowhere in foreign lands have I felt so little like a foreigner and so completely enfolded by the self-existing naturalness of life’s clear river as I did here.”
In 1911, Hermann Hesse sailed through southeastern Asian waters on a trip that would define much of his later writing. Hesse brings his unique eye to scenes such as adventures in a rickshaw, watching foreign theater performances, exploring strange floating cities on stilts, and luxuriating in the simple beauty of the lush natural landscape. Even in the doldrums of travel, he records his experience with faithful humor, wit, and sharp observation, offering a broad vision of travel in the early 1900s.
With a glimpse into the workings of his mind through the pages of his journals, poems, and a short story—all translated into English for the first time—these writings describe the real-life experiences that inspired Hesse to pen his most famous works.
In 1911, German novelist Hesse, his famous works Steppenwolf and Siddhartha still before him, undertook a three-month-long journey to Singapore, as recounted in the luminous journal entries and poems collected here and translated into English for the first time. In evocative prose, Hesse describes the stillness of a "hot dark-blue night" aboard ship in the Suez Canal, the only sound "the soft rolling of a railroad train from Cairo that appeared atop the long, desolate bank"; the "thick, horrid smell of coconut oil" that permeates Malaysian villages; and the spell cast on him and other travelers by the "tangled, green eternity" of an Indonesian jungle. Elsewhere, Hesse marvels at how well the "pleasantly weathered" buildings in Malaysia match their environment, predicting they will outlast the "guilt-laden existence" of newer European-built dwellings. A favorite Hesse theme, the conflict between the spiritual and the physical, is explored in the collection's only fiction selection, "Robert Aghion," set in India (which Hesse planned to but didn't manage to visit), about a young missionary's crisis of faith. The emerging beauty of Hesse's later work shines in these writings, though they will appeal mostly to the author's established fans.