“Zorba the Greek” by Nikos Kazantzakis


(Author: Nikos Kazantzakis) + (Year: 1946) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: Greece)


3.5 stars. I will explain why shortly.

A friend of mine read Zorba the Greek last year and was so impressed and excited by it that I decided to put it on my to-read list until I have time for it. The book was supposed to be my last one for 2015, but I couldn’t finish it. Because teachers in Turkey have absolutely no respect for holidays and I had an exam on December 31. That’s why.

It’s easy to see why Zorba the Greek became a classic book. It’s full of philosophy and existential questions with possible answers for them. The overall atmosphere at points is too pretentious, as is the narrator, who spends so much time drowning in his constant drama and so completely detached from the world that he needs another man to teach him how to live.

However, I did like a big part of Zorba’s understanding of life. Namely:

“What’s happening today, this minute, that’s what I care about.  I say:  ‘What are you doing at this moment, Zorba?’  ‘I’m sleeping.’  ‘Well, sleep well.’  ‘What are you doing at this moment, Zorba?’  ‘I’m working.’  ‘Well, work well.’  ‘What are you doing at this moment, Zorba?’  ‘I’m kissing a woman.’  ‘Well, kiss her well, Zorba!  And forget all the rest while you’re doing it; there’s nothing else on earth, only you and her!  Get on with it!'”

This sounds like a great way to live. Instead of always being chased by bitter memories and poisonous worry, one could just focus on the now, live the moment, appreciate it as it is, do whatever one is doing in the best way possible and then move on to the next thing.

I generally liked that Zorba just tries to live. Without too much of anything and with equal passion for everything.

But, on the other hand, he is definitely not a role model. He is wise at 65 but he also tells the narrator a lot about his past, about the murders and rapes he committed, about the evilness he had in him.

And what I hated about this book is his attitude toward women. I think that every woman who ever said she liked this book unconditionally should be ashamed of herself. Because according to Zorba, women are weak, worthless, interchangeable creatures. Why mourn the death of one when there are so many of them? Why not sleep with all of them, why not rape them? Or even more so, his “fantastic” statement that if you grab a woman by the breasts she is yours and she would absolutely sleep with you? I felt so disgusted by the parts of the book where he talks about women that I completely separated them from everything else that is going on. Otherwise I would have to give this book a steady -1 star. I was shaken by the murder in the church yard which nobody, including the narrator, but Zorbas, tried to stop. Same goes with the horrible joke the narrator played on the old prostitute.

Which brings me to the narrator himself. By far the worst character in the book, despite Zorba’s disgusting misogyny. The narrator is a spineless, selfish and pretentious prude. He only cares about himself and how to rid himself of the aches of his soul, which, for some reason, he thinks are more profound than whatever everyone else thinks and feels. The fact that he didn’t even lift a hand for the widow, in itself, speaks volumes.

I know that my review seems a bit controversial and that it seems like I completely disliked the book. But in truth, enough has been said about its good sides, I want to point out that there are bad ones which definitely should not be dismissed.