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Nikos Kazantzakis: Βιος και Πολιτεία του Αλέξη Ζορμπά (Zorba the Greek)

Kazantzakis was little known outside Greece, till the film of this book was released. As with Ο Τελευταίος Πειρασμός (UK: The Last Temptation; US: The Last Temptation of Christ), Kazantzakis remains best-known to non-Greeks for these two films, rather than for his books. The book (and film) cover one of Kazantzakis’ favourite themes, namely the spirit versus the flesh. The unnamed narrator, based on Kazantzakis himself, is an intellectual but, seeking to get more involved in practical matters, he has bought a lignite mine in Crete. On the way, he meets Alexis Zorba in a café and Zorba persuades him to take him along as a foreman. The narrator is attracted to this much older man, who seems to have lived the life that the narrator has been sheltered from. The two settle in a hut on the beach and, essentially, Zorba teaches the narrator about life, which includes wine, women and song, as well as the life of earthy passion. Of course, it doesn’t work out entirely satisfactorily, as the narrator ends up bankrupt, thanks to Zorba’s ideas, but he does learn to dance (it is a very famous scene in the film). If you like a book full of life and energy, you will enjoy this book. If you wish to remain a contemplative intellectual, you might find it a little simplistic and you will be probably be put off by the rampant sexism but it is still fun, even if not great literature.

Publishing history

First published 1946 by Dimitrakou, Athens
First English translation 1952 by Cassirer/Simon and Schuster
Translated by Carl Wildman