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Often we search for inner peace, and when this search begins, we look eastward. This is different than an Eastwood glance, which seems to involve a lot of squinting. As a teenager, I dabbled in the martial arts, learning that there is more to karate than just violence, and I thought I had found inner peace when I won the All Valley Karate Championship. Just a short while later, my mentor and I traveled eastward to see his dying father, where his old rival waited in the shadows, and where I made an enemy of my own. The crane technique would fail me this time.
But this metaphoric search for inner peace propels a literal journey, which leads me to this: Modern Library just published a wonderful new translation of Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha. At 160 pages, this small book is perhaps the greatest text on a man's journey to enlightenment. As a young man, Siddhartha leaves his parents and lives a life on the long and winding road. All such journeys, I believe, require a woman's touch. Siddhartha's woman is Kamala, a pleasant, saucy lady: "Yes, I kiss well, and therefore I am not lacking in clothes, shoes, bracelets, or any other beautiful things," she says. Oh, Kamala, won't you be my wife?
Of course, there are other pleasures that pull our hero from his route to enlightenment: "A curious and slippery path had led Siddhartha to his latest and vilest form of dependency: dice playing." I, like Siddhartha, fell to games of chance, and when the neighborhood wives and I played Bunko, and I didn't get sixes, well, Helen's red, white, and blueberry trifle just wasn't as sweet. Nevertheless, this "curious and slippery path" takes Siddhartha to his first job, as a ferryman. And it is there, after years of searching, that Siddhartha, the aquatic cabby, senses a tingling in his stomach, and it's not just the decades of undernourishment - it, perchance, is his enlightenment.