There are a very few books that give birth to characters too large to be contained within their pages. Don Quixote, Odysseus, Falstaff– they burst from their books with lives all their own. Nikos Kazantzakis’ creation Zorba the Greek is just such a character. The book chronicles the relationship between the titular Greek, Alexis Zorba, and the Narrator. The Narrator is a 35-year-old scholar and bookworm who rents a coal mine on the island of Crete in an effort to lead a ‘life of action’. On the morning of his departure from the mainland, the Narrator meets Zorba. Zorba is a 65-year-old peasant who convinces the Narrator to hire him as a cook. They travel to Crete, where the Narrator makes Zorba foreman of the mine. The plot of the novel revolves around the trials and tribulations faced by this unlikely duo. The plot is of little consequence. This is not a book that is read for what happens. This is a book that is read for whom it contains.
Zorba is a passionate, violently alive individual. Lacking formal education, Zorba is nevertheless a sage. His is the wisdom of the simple man, expressed by dance and singing when words prove insufficient. Zorba answers the call of his spirit no matter the cost or the consequences. He is the urge within us all to sever the ties of responsibility and society and live the pure life of the will. The Narrator is our reason, constantly making excuses and denying the whims of the spirit. The relationship between the two characters is poignant and inspiring. This book is a much-needed reminder that in a life led by reason, we should all occasionally dance like a wild man.
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