How I loved this book! It has the same spirit and energy, and introspection and philosophizing, as I remember in Hesse's Steppenwolf. It reminded me also of James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which I've read twice, both times before age 22.
Demian is a vibrant, invigorating, and a read that is ultra-challenging to a reader's innermost self. It was a bit like rubbing snow all over one's flesh. It's very brief, yet one cannot sit back with a book that demands so much of the reader and say, "Interesting," or "I liked it," or "Very entertaining." I believe the novel challenges the reader to confront him- or herself, just as Emil Sinclair painstakingly does--with all the painful internal and external soul-searching. This book is the ultimate choice for anyone enduring the psychic pain of an identity quest, regardless of age.
This novel is the story of a boy's and later, a young man's search for his moral compass, his universe, and himself, which makes the reading riveting. I especially liked Emil's enigmatic and mystical relationship with Max Demian and with his mother, Eva, both of whom "bear the mark of Cain on their foreheads," as does Emil Sinclair. The climax's segue into the long-prophesized calamity of the European continent, World War I, pushes the book outward from the internal sphere inhabiting the characters.
Hesse wrote the book in 1917, in the midst of World War I, and, most importantly, a year after he suffered a series of profound personal losses.
I would enjoy reading a biography of Hesse as well as literary criticism of Demian. Hesse, born in 1877, experienced psychoanalysis with a Jungian analyst in Switzerland. I'm not sure of exactly when this occurred, but it fell within the era that Demian was written.