A Journey Through Life
By Ama H. Vanniarachchy
On a lazy Sunday afternoon in my mini library, I was searching for a book to read. My hot creamy coffee was waiting patiently on the table. I was not sure what exactly I wanted to read. Then, my search stopped near a big heavy book with an attractive cover. It was The Stone and the Flute by the celebrated German writer Hans Bemmann translated by Anthea Bell. The book was 855 pages. I couldn't recall how this massive a book ended up in my collection. However, as it seemed to be tempting, I curled up on the couch, with my creamy coffee and this massive book, ready to travel to an unknown enchanting world. The next couple of days I was lost in the enchanting world woven by Bemmann. To me, The Stone and the Flute is not just a book, but a glorious masterpiece. It wasn’t merely a fantasy tale, but a story that had a broad vision about life. Every page of the book is filled with some strange energy that will fill you up for a lifetime. At the end of this great journey you are left amazed and slightly startled with a tingling feeling of sadness that overshadows the excitement.
The story of Listener
The story is about a boy named Listener. He embarks on a journey towards the unknown, in search of his grandfather. He carries with him a mysterious stone and his grandfather’s flute. The stone, mysterious and magical, guides Listener. But his fickle mind gives into temptation making him lose his way. Although gifted with great possessions and powers with the stone and the flute, Listener, giving into his untrained and fickle mind, fails to stay faithful to himself and to those who love him. Even the magical music of the flute is not able to make Listener realise the purpose of his life. Wasting most of his youth, during his old age, Listener realises that life is more than just what he thought; he realises the power of love and the depth of life. The wisdom you gain after travelling so far with Listener, will broaden your philosophy about life and the choices you make. This is also a rare book that makes you laugh and weep at the same time. I haven't come across another book that has that ability to make the reader laugh, feel deep peace and tranquillity and then experience deep sorrow and a strange emptiness. Not many novels have that power.
A fairy tale, wrapped with great wisdom
The world created by Bemmann is vivid and vibrant as the world in which you and I live in. Listener is not a heroic character, but a man with emotions, uncertain about himself and sometimes downright villainous. Although the tale is set in a fantasy world and has the essence of a fairy tale, the lead character is portrayed so realistically unlike many fictional characters. He is innocent, has good intentions, but is stubborn at times which makes him commit mistakes that he and the reader repent. The story begins with the birth of Listener and ends with his death as a wise old man. We, the readers, walk beside him witnessing his long journey. By the end you feel as if you have known Listener for a long time and as if he was a dear friend of yours. We feel for him. We laugh with him, enjoy peaceful and victorious moments with him and we cry with him. We weep bitterly over his miseries. And we regret and feel helpless when he makes a bad choice. At the end, when Listener dies, you feel as if you have lost an old friend, with whom you grew older and wiser. A strange emptiness rises within you. The story of Listener is like our journey. We travel to the unknown, fight many battles within and outside, and at the end no matter victorious or defeated, life must end. We realise that what matters is the journey, the love we give and receive, and the tranquillity we must achieve within, not the unknown and uncertain destination.
This utterly spellbinding German masterpiece was written by Bemmann (April 27, 1922 – April 1, 2003) when he was 60 years old. This is his second novel out of the seven books he authored. Born in Germany, Bemmann was the son of a Pastor. He studied to become a medical doctor. However due to the war, he couldn’t complete his education. Later he pursued his education in German literature and musicology and completed a doctorate from the University of Innsbruck. He was the editor of a leading newspaper and a university lecturer and subsequently he served as a professor at the University of Bonn from 1971 to 1983. In 2002 Bemmann was awarded the Rheinischer Literaturpreis Siegburg. “I tell you what, sometimes you get so obstinate you have to be gently forced to see where your happiness lies.”
– Hans Bemmann, The Stone and the Flute