"Simplicius Simplicissimus" is a the English name for a German novel dating to 1668, and written by Hans Jakob Christof von Grimmelshausen. The book was written sometime before the concept of a novel was developed, and resembles a picaresque novel such as Dox Quixote more than what we might think of as a novel. Most of the book is a series of adventures, in turn grim and comic, set during the Thirty Years War.

Simplicius is a young man who is kidnapped by raiders at a young age during the Thirty Years' War. He runs away and finds himself in the company of a hermit, who gives him the same "Simplicius" ("Simpleton") because he doesn't even know his name. Simplicius tries to live as a simple hermit, but the Thirty Years War intrudes over and over again, and turns him into a soldier, a charlatan and a male prostitute, as well as many other occupations. During all of his adventures, Simplicius usually declaims the corruption and violence he finds himself involved in...all the while indulging in it wholeheartedly. He accepts his luck, good and bad, before moving on to the next adventure.

The book is divided into six sections, and the first four are a fairly realistic, if somewhat improbable, account of life during the treacherous and shifting times of the Thirty Years' War. The last two sections move into the realm of fantasy, as Simplicius visits mermen at the earth's core, and then travels to Korea, Japan, and eventually to an island off the coast of Madagascar, where he retires to live as a hermit.

The book was apparently well known at the time, but has become obscure over time. I consider myself fairly conversant with literature, but I only read it because I happened to have a copy, and had never heard of it before. To a modern reader, the book is somewhat lacking in certain aspects. While the writing is lively and amusing, there is little character development since most of the characters are one-dimensional and included either for the purposes of satire, or to move the plot forward. The book is more interesting for its historical and literary interest, being a record of life during the Thirty Years War] and the first novel written in German. It is also always interesting to see what type of edgy humor appealed to people centuries ago: at one point in the story, Simplicius escapes capture by dressing like a girl, and living with a rich merchant as his maid. This causes some trouble, as the merchant, his wife, and his servant all try to seduce their teenage maid.

Although it is interesting in places, and reading excerpts from it could be quite educational, this book would probably be a bit of a slog for the modern reader. I would probably only recommend this book for people who have a strong interest in either the period, or the development of literature.

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