Hermann Hesse is an excellent writer. The Glass Bead Game is a beautiful book; Steppenwolf is wonderful too; Narziss and Goldmund is no exception to the rule. A young boy is sent to a cloister to study. Whilst there, he meets a young monk who is teaching some of his classes. The two strike up a friendship – an unlikely one, because in many ways they are very different – but the monk, Narziss, notes the similarities between them and sets himself up as a kind of mentor to Goldmund.
Time goes on, and eventually Goldmund realises he needs more than just academic stimulation. He saddles up a horse and rides away across the fields, eventually living the life of a vagrant wanderer. He travels from place to place, sleeping with women, meeting companions, making friends; and eventually ends up in a small town, where he sees a carved image of the virgin Mary. He is moved to the core, and manages to befriend the carver and become his apprentice. After a couple of years of study, Goldmund is offered the chance to become a master carver, but instead leaves for more wandering. He meets a beautiful woman, who is married to a count, and is caught hiding in her wardrobe by her husband and sentenced to death. Narziss finds him, saves his life and takes him back to the cloister, where the two catch up on lost years and Goldmund becomes the resident carver. Gradually he comes to various realisations about life and death, and the conclusion of the book is a beautiful conversation between Narziss and a now very ill Goldmund.
As is usual with Hesse, the themes and possible interpretations are many. It’s such a seminal book that it’s worth leaving everything open: I think it’s one of those works from which each person will draw something different. Certainly worth reading; easy to read, as well; highly recommended.