20APR2018 – Quote of the Day

Some more Zorba.

 

Chapter XVIII

‘Have you ever been to war, Zorba?’

‘How do I know?’ he asked with a frown. I can’t remember. What war?’

‘I mean, have you ever fought for your country?’

‘Couldn’t you talk about something else? All that nonsense is over and done with and
best forgotten.’

‘Do you call that nonsense, Zorba? Aren’t you ashamed? Is that how you speak of
your country?’

Zorba raised his head and looked at me. I was lying on my bed, too, and the oil-lamp
was burning above my head. He looked at me severely for a time, then, taking a firm
hold of his moustache, said:

“That’s a half-baked thing to say; it’s what I expect from a schoolmaster. I might as
well be singing, boss, for all the good it is my talking to you, if you’ll pardon my saying
so.’

‘What?’ I protested. ‘I understand things, Zorba, don’t forget.’

‘Yes, you understand with your brain. You say: “This is right, and that’s wrong; this is

true, and that isn’t; he’s right, the other one’s wrong …” But where does that lead us?

While you are talking I watch your arms and chest. Well, what are they doing? They’re

silent. They don’t say a word. As though they hadn’t a drop of blood between them.

Well, what do you think you understand with? With your head? Bah!’

Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis

Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis – A Book Review

Zorba the Greek is a picaresque novel by Nikos Kazantzakis that supposedly is based on a real man that Kazantzakis knew.  Zorba is an old Greek working man who insinuates himself into the journey of a young well-to-do intellectual Greek fellow who is travelling to Crete to take up ownership of a coal mine there.  Their business venture and various adventures together are the story line of the book.  But the story is the apprenticeship of the bookish young man under the tutelage of Zorba.  And the craft he is learning is how to be a free man.

Kazantzakis was fascinated by philosophy and the spiritual life of the modern world.  Being an atheist, he was always searching for meaning and truth.  I’ve read a number of his books.  None of them speak to me except Zorba.  And the character in Zorba the Greek that represents Kazantzakis, the young intellectual, I do not find interesting.  Zorba is the whole story.  When he leaves the scene, I lose interest.

Zorba is a larger than life character that within the confines of his workingman’s world has lived many of the most intense experiences.  He has been a guerilla warrior in the Greek wars against the Turks and the Bulgarians.  He has been a musician, a craftsman, a laborer, a business man and an engineer.  And he has had a life-long career as a Casanova.  But at the basis of Zorba’s personality is his conviction that the only real wealth a man has is his free will.  And that is what he tries to teach the young intellectual.  A man is never free until he can throw away everything he has to follow a whim.  If he can’t do that, then he is a slave to whatever things hold him back.  And he includes wealth, family, patriotism and fear in that category.

Whether Zorba’s beliefs are consistent or even logical I’ll put aside.  The book has many moments that are comical, moving, thought provoking or some combination of the above.  The details of Cretan peasant life are picturesque but if accurate point to a primitive existence that verges on the barbaric.  But this primal landscape provides scope for the larger than life exploits of Zorba.

And no matter how things turn out, no matter how fate conspires against Zorba, he is completely undaunted.  He moves forward and latches onto the next day and the people and things around him and puts together some new mad plan to conquer the world, or at least his world.  And that is the greatest charm of the book.  To meet a man who has an unquenchable appetite for life.  To meet someone who loves life at the visceral level.  Who sees everything as if for the first time.  Sees, hears, smells, tastes and touches things as if he were the first man in the world to do so.  That is the charm if you can imagine it.  That’s what makes it a perfect summer book for me.  At least the parts with Zorba in center stage.

So how does the apprenticeship go?  Well the young man will never be Zorba and at the end of the book he fails the test that Zorba gives him.  But without a doubt his life has been enriched and his outlook has been broadened by knowing and surviving this catastrophic character.

 

 

10APR2018 – Quote of the Day

Sometime soon I’ll have to write a book review of Zorba the Greek.  I have a love/hate relationship with the book but every few years I have to reread it.  I think I read it not because the book is flawless (far from it) but because Zorba represents the essential component of the male soul, force of will.

Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis

Chapter 19

…    ‘Let’s get back to our subject! What about Zeus?’

‘Ah! the poor chap!’ sighed Zorba. ‘I’m the only one to know what he suffered. He

loved women, of course, but not the way you think, you pen-pushers! Not at all! He

was sorry for them! He understood what they all suffered and he sacrificed himself for

their sakes! When, in some god-forsaken country hole, he saw an old maid wasting

away with desire and regret, or a pretty young wife – or even if she wasn’t at all pretty,

even if she was a monster – and her husband away and she couldn’t get to sleep, he

used to cross himself, this good fellow, changed his clothes, take on whatever shape

the woman had in mind and go to her room.

‘He never bothered about women who just wanted petting. No! Often enough even he

was dead-beat: you can understand that. How could anybody satisfy all those she-

goats? Ah! Zeus! the poor old goat, More than once he couldn’t be bothered, he didn’t

feel too good. Have you never seen a billy after he’s covered several she-goats? He

slobbers at the mouth, his eyes are all misty and rheumy, he coughs a bit and can

hardly stand on his feet. Well, poor old Zeus must have been in that sad state quite

often.

‘At dawn he’d come home, saying: “Ah! my God! whenever shall I be able to have a

good night’s rest? I’m dropping!” And he’d keep wiping the saliva from his mouth.

‘But suddenly he’d hear a sigh: down there on earth some woman had thrown off her

bedclothes, gone out onto the balcony, almost stark naked, and was sighing enough

to turn the sails of a mill! And my old Zeus would be quite over-come.

“Oh, hell! I’ll have to go down again!” he’d groan.

“There’s a woman bemoaning  her lot! I’ll have to go and console her!”

‘And it went on like that to such an extent that the women emptied him completely. He

couldn’t move his back, he started vomiting, became paralysed and died. That’s when

his heir, Christ, arrived. He saw the wretched state the old man was in: “Beware of

women!” he cried.’