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Sunday, July 02, 2006

Happy Birthday, Hermann

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Back when I was about 14 or 15, I decided to try reading a small, jacketless hardcover book my brother Rick had brought home called Demian. It was written by a German-Swiss writer named Hermann Hesse, and I think I started reading it because I was under the impression that it might have some racy parts in it. I ended up devouring it over the course of a weekend trip my parents and I made to visit my uncle, aunt, and cousins. At one level, it is a coming-of-age story, and I identified quite a bit with the protagonist, Emil Sinclair. There were also other themes and ideas, some of which I got, but most of which went sailing right over my head. Still, I loved it and had made a new friend in a German-language writer who had died when I was not quite three.

In the years since, I have read several more of his works, including four more novels and two long essays, "The Spa Visitor" and "Journey to Nuremburg." Each has impressed me and changed me, helped me to see the world slightly differently, with more compassion, I hope.

Herr Hesse would have been 129 today, had he lived. Happy birthday, Hermann, wherever you are.

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