Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Zorba the Greek - Nikos Kazantzakis

ISBN: 0-571-05265-7

What a man! If the world could be lived according to Zorba, then what a better place it would be...I think.

Written in the middle of the forties, but set in the Thirties, we are transported to the island of Crete, where our hero has travelled with his new found companion and employer, our narrator. Over the period of the novel, we are regaled with the philosophies and ideals of this well travelled Macedonian; he has been a fighter for causes, a lover of women, a callous handed worker and an international drifter. But he exudes confidence and trust wherever he goes. His ability to compartmentalise the various parts of his history, as well as his present day affairs makes him somebody that you could confide your innermost thoughts to.

The story is based around the opening of a disused mine on the island by our narrator, which will give our narrator, an intellectual, a chance to get amongst the working classes and the peasants. Zorba becomes his manager of the mine, working alongside and leading the workforce, spending the evenings in the same accommodation as his new found Bhudda studying owner. It is during the evenings, over simple foods that they discuss the philosophies of the world at large, people in general and the two of them in particular. As the story advances, they discover that although their lives have been lived in totally different ways; with different upbringings, ideals and beliefs, they are not so far apart after all. All this, and set against the coastline of the island, facing south.

In the writing of this work, Kazantzakis has split the text into two at many levels. He has two conflicting outlooks that come together, realising that the Bhuddist way of seeing the world is not that far different from the coarse but honest way of Zorba. There are the social differences between our two protagonists that eventually meet in the middle, the immediacy of Zorba as opposed to the considered approach from the owner of the mine. Finally, and with equal importance, there is a different approach to love, with Zorba becoming emotionally attached to a lady with a colourful past that included many gentlemen of military standing and the owner becoming attracted to a local widow in a much more genteel way. Both relationships will end in the same way, but by totally different routes.

The final parting of company by these two men comes across as inevitable, but is quite sudden and final when it does come. They both will take a little of each other’s outlooks, views and teachings with them, and although they will never meet again, there is a small twist at the end. As with the rest of the text, two conflicting approaches to the same subject; the end is both bitter and sweet.

It is, then, a fine tale of companionship, honour, belief and manliness. Clearly there are indications that date the work, but the ideals, ethos and ultimate message from Kazantzakis remains as true today as it did when it was written some 70 years ago. Well worth seeking out and reviewing your lifestyle to see if you can be a little bit more like Zorba. I will! 

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