After nearly two weeks of effort, I finally finished Nikos Kazantzakis’ Report to Greco on Sunday. This book is extraordinary. I mean that in the sense of beyond the usual. The book is a somewhat fictionalized autobiography, although the extent of the fictional elements is impossible to decipher. It seems less like fiction to me and more like an authentic account of how an astonishingly creative genius would remember his past. Report to Greco transcends both fiction and biography. What it offers is an extended parable teaching about one soul’s journey from birth to what Kazantzakis describes as the abyss. All of this is done in language so evocative that it makes you feel everything the author describes. You do not simply read about visiting a chapel at the top of Mount Sinai, you struggle up the path with Kazantzakis. The same is true of his journeys to Greece, Italy, Paris, Berlin, Russia, and his wanderings around his native Crete.
The thing that sets this autobiography apart from so many others is that Kazantzakis does not try to recount all of the events in his life. Instead, he offers a continuous narrative of his spiritual, philosophical, and intellectual development. He occasionally mentions world events, but this book is the story of a personal journey. That singular focus makes it much more touching than a catalog of world events during the life of the author. The reader comes away from this book with the sense that he or she knows Kazantzakis on a very deep level. I loved the other two Kazantzakis books I read earlier this year (Zorba and Freedom or Death), but Report to Greco is in a league of its own. The first paragraph of the epilogue neatly summarizes Kazantzakis’ approach:
“I kiss your hand beloved grandfather. I kiss your right shoulder, I kiss your left shoulder. My confession is over; now you must judge. I did not recount the details of daily life. Rinds they were. You tossed them into the garbage of the abyss and I did the same. With its large and small sorrows, large and small joys, life sometimes wounded me, sometimes caressed me. These habitual everyday affairs left us, and we left them. It was not worth the trouble to turn back and haul them out of the abyss. The world will lose nothing if the people I knew remain in oblivion. Contact with my contemporaries had very little influence on my life. I did not love many men, either because I failed to understand them or because I looked upon them with contempt; perhaps, also, because I did not chance to meet many who deserved being loved. I did not hate anyone, however, even though I harmed several people without desiring to. They were sparrows and I wished to turn them into eagles. I set about to deliver them from mediocrity and routine, pushed them without taking their endurance into account, and they crashed to the ground. Only the immortal dead enticed me, the great Sirens Christ, Buddha, and Lenin. From my early years I sat at their feet and listened intently to their seductive love-filled song. I struggled all my life to save myself from each of these Sirens without denying any one of them, struggled to unite these three clashing voices and transform them into harmony.”
The Current Count:
37 Read, 63 To Go