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Last night I completed my last novel for the next five weeks, Freedom or Death by Nikos Kazantzakis.  Many thanks to all of my readers for the encouraging words about my upcoming Jeopardy audition.  I will try not to disappoint!  This book definitely did not disappoint.  It is set on the island of Crete in the late 1800’s.  Crete has been oppressed by the Ottoman Empire for 200 years.  Once or twice a generation, the native Cretans rise up against the Turks with their battle cry– “Freedom or Death!”  Each time, the rebellion is ruthlessly crushed.  This book tells the story of one of these uprisings.  The original title of the book was Captain Michales, and the hero of the book carries that name.  Michales is a chief, or Captain, of the Cretans in Megalokastro (modern Heraklion), the city in which the Ottoman Pasha resides.  Tensions between the natives and the Turks build until they erupt and send Michales into the mountains to make war.  He and his fellow palikars know that they are fighting a losing war.  Each man uncovers his true self when faced with these overwhelming odds.  Many eventually surrender.  Michales does not.  He goes to his doom shouting the Cretan motto– “Freedom or Death!”

Kazantzakis is a native of Crete, and this book is certainly a powerful evocation of the spirit of his native island.  It is a gripping tale about an oppressed people’s struggle for freedom.  This is much more than a story about a long-ago rebellion on a distant island.  This is a story about freedom of spirit.  Through brilliant characterization, Kazantzakis shows us the many conflicting urges that pester the spirits of men.  The various characters respond to these urges in different ways, but one man towers above them all: Captain Michales.  Michales suffers from the same demons as other men.  What sets him apart is that he pushes those demons down to pursue his most fundamental belief– that Crete should be free.  Michales is the liberated spirit, refusing to be made into something he is not by a world unconcerned with individuals.  Even as others take the course deemed reasonable by society (surrendering), Michales stands his ground and holds on to his belief.  All of us could learn from his example.  Find what you believe in and pursue it doggedly.  When the world tries to shackle you with the ‘reasonable choice’, shout at the top of your lungs– “Freedom or Death!”

The Current Count–

31 Read, 69 To Go

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