Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis

This is rather less heavily drenched in the smell of male sweat than Freedom and Death, but it has rather similar themes of the relationship between education, thought, action and masculinity. Again I’m reminded of D.H. Lawrence, and the Buddhism in this one brought Herman Hesse to mind; you could draw a parallel with Steppenwolf, for example.

The narrator is an intellectual, working on a book about Buddha, who buys a lignite mine, and develops a friendship with the man he has employed to run it—Zorba. There’s a very clear dynamic set up between the narrator’s intellectualism on the one hand and Zorba’s spontaneity and openness on the other. The bookish man learns all sorts of lessons from the enthusiasm for life of the man of action, as well as his untutored philosophy.

It would be very easy to make into the most awful kind of Hollywood movie* because of the rather obvious nature of that relationship, but the novel is better than the summary would suggest. Mainly because Kazantzakis writes good characters, dramatic situations and generally has the storytelling virtues that one associates with the great C19th novelists. And the details are interesting and unexpected enough to lift it above the obvious.

*I haven’t seen the movie version, so this isn’t a comment on that one way or the other.

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