Initial Impressions of Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis
Not very long ago, I gave myself permission to be able to not like a book, even if it is on a list of the greatest books of all time. I struggled while I read Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis. I had a hard time with the language used to describe women – brazen bitch, brood mare, slut, whore, hussy, wench, and that women have no brains.
First published in 1946, Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis is autobiographical, and the character Zorba, is George Zorba, the author’s close friend. The book is a tribute to George Zorba. In the novel, the narrator, is referred to as “boss.”
UPDATE: First Published Here in January 2014
What is Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis About?
When the story starts, the boss, who is 35 years old, is going through an identity crisis. He is very well-read, but he hasn’t allowed himself to go through a lot of meaningful and worthwhile life experiences, it’s almost as if he is living vicariously through books, so he has decided to put away his books for a while.
The boss is also upset because when a close friend, Stavridakis was leaving, his parting words were, “Au revoir bookworm,” which angered him. Stavridakis was on his way to Caucasus to help to liberate some people of Greek descent. It doesn’t appear that the boss has ever been involved with a cause.
While waiting out a terrible storm in a café in Piraeus, to board a boat that’s going to Crete, a sixty-five year old man approaches him looking for work. The man, Alexis Zorba has worked in a mine, as a cook among other things. The boss hires Zorba to be his cook and to work in his lignite mine in Crete.
When they arrive in Crete, they rent a place from Dame Hortense, and it turns out it’s just a hut, which the two have to share. Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis contrasts, the boss, who is bookish, with Zorba, who is unschooled and uncouth. The book is about the friendship of these two men who have contrasting personalities.
The book is very philosophical and Zorba asks the tough questions such as why do people die, where do they come from, and is there a God, all questions that we have asked at some point during our lives. And the reader can see the split between man’s physical and intellectual natures as shown in the two contrasting personalities. Additionally, Zorba constantly challenges his employer’s belief system, and his outlook on life.
The boss needs to get a life. I shook my head when I read the boss saying that he has, “fallen so low that, if I had to choose between falling in love with a woman and reading a book about love, I should have chosen the book.” This statement speaks volume for the reader about who the boss is at his core. By the end of the book, the boss has a deep reverence for Zorba, which I think is misplaced.
In Zorba the Greek, the character, Zorba relates an incident where he beats up a former employer for no real reason. He cuts off a part of his index finger on his left hand because he believed it was getting in the way while making pottery. Zorba has these intense lows and highs and as a reader I think he is manic depressive – he is mentally challenged. All through the story, Zorba does bad things and the boss allows him to get away with it. Zorba heads to Candia to secure some cable for a railway to transport timber from the top of a hill. He doesn’t return until 12 days later because he is with a woman and spends all of the boss’ money, even though he promised to return right away.
To retrieve the boss’ money, Zorba essentially blackmail’s the abbot and the monks at the monastery who they want to lease the land from, and he is always able to justify his action. The boss is passive, telling Zorba to do whatever he wants, but he doesn’t want any part of it. Unfortunately, you are responsible for your employees while they are on the job. He also places too much faith in Zorba’s abilities, taking his word for granted that he has certain skills and abilities.
When the railway experiment blows up and the boss decides to leave Crete because he has lost everything, Zorba is upset and believes that the boss hasn’t really learned the important life lessons. They exchange a few letters over the next few years, and in one of the last letters from Zorba, he invites the boss to visit him a great distance away to see a green stone. Boss declines the invitation which angers Zorba who then decides not to write to the boss again. On his deathbed, Zorba dictates a letter to the boss.
Would I Recommend Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis?
I read in a literary criticism that Zorba the Greek is “Nikos Kazantzakis’ self-portrait as an artist and philosopher.” That may or may not be so, but I still cannot figure out why Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis is on a list of the greatest books of all time. I have read and reviewed books such as Lady Chatterley’s Lover (My review of Lady Chatterley’s Lover ) where the language is “racy” for the time, but I found quite a bit of Zorba the Greek to be downright crude. And it may very well be that I am ticked off because of the way that the characters talk about women. But you may want to read the book for yourself if you do not have the bias that I have.
Books by Nikos Kazantzakis
The Last Temptation of ChristSaint FrancisGod’s Pauper: A NovelChrist Recrucified: A NovelThe OdysseyReport to GrecoThe Saviors of God: Spiritual ExercisesThe Odyssey, A Modern SequelFreedom and DeathSAINT FRANCISAlexander The Great: A NovelReport to GrecoFreedom or Death (A Touchstone Book)Japan/China: A Journal of Two Voyages to the Far East