Sin­ga­pore Dream and Other Ad­ven­tures: Travel Writ­ings from an Asian Jour­ney

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews | Adult Nonfiction - HO LIN

Her­mann Hesse Sherab Chodzin Kohn (Trans­la­tor)

Shamb­hala (JUNE) Soft­cover $16.95 (160pp) 978-1-61180-589-5 Her­mann Hesse’s Sin­ga­pore Dream and Other Ad­ven­tures is a time cap­sule of South­east Asia in the early twen­ti­eth cen­tury, as well as an in­ti­mate diary in which can be found the cre­ative seeds that would ger­mi­nate in Hesse’s later fic­tion, in­clud­ing his clas­sic novel Sid­dhartha. Most of all, it’s an en­gross­ing gem of a trav­el­ogue, now trans­lated into English for the first time by Sherab Chödzin Kohn.

Com­prised mainly of sketches of the young Hesse’s ob­ser­va­tions as he ven­tured through Cey­lon, Malaysia, Sin­ga­pore, and Palem­bang in 1911, Sin­ga­pore Dream is a vivid jour­ney into a world that com­bines the fa­mil­iar and the alien. Whether de­scrib­ing the in­hu­manly hot conditions on­board an ocean steamer, re­gard­ing the mul­ti­eth­nic pop­u­la­tions mix­ing it up on Sin­ga­pore’s boule­vards, or mar­veling at ci­ties built on stilts in the swamp­lands of Su­ma­tra, Hesse’s writ­ing is never less than pel­lu­cid. Ev­ery sketch is soaked in de­tail, and if Hesse’s mus­ings can some­times seem dated to mod­ern eyes (those of Malaysian de­scent might not be too pleased with his take on some of the lo­cals he meets), they nonethe­less re­main fas­ci­nat­ing.

Di­vert­ing as these pieces are, the pri­mary rea­son to read Sin­ga­pore Dream is Hesse’s un­var­nished di­aries. As with many travel jour­nals, all paths ul­ti­mately lead to the heart of the trav­eler him­self. Lament­ing the en­croach­ment of West­ern colo­nial­ism and dis­sat­is­fied with the Bud­dhist idola­try of the na­tives, Hesse seeks au­then­tic­ity in him­self and oth­ers—sen­ti­ments that would come to dom­i­nate his later fic­tion. In Sin­ga­pore Dream’s most tran­scen­dent pas­sages, he finds such mo­ments dur­ing com­mu­nions with na­ture.

Hand­somely pre­sented and in­tel­li­gently trans­lated, Sin­ga­pore Dream and Other Ad­ven­tures is es­sen­tial read­ing for con­nois­seurs of travel writ­ing, as well as ad­mir­ers of Her­mann Hesse’s work.

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