‘Zorba The Greek’ by Nikos Kazantzakis

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When I finished the book, I poured myself a glass of Kritiko red wine, baked a handful of chestnuts then remained still and thoughtful at the table. The feeling of separation was tearing my soul. I hardly pulled myself out of the story, I took a deep breath and my fingers started dancing eagerly on the keyboard.

“Zorba The Greek” is one of those novels, where you are present not as a reader but rather as  an interlocutor, a witness, or a contemporary of the events and the people portrayed in it.  Nikos Kazantzakis possesses the craft of enveloping a story around you in a way that feels somehow familiar and ordinary even to a reader who is distant to the culture flowing from the arid hills of the island of Crete. Many, once they have completed the reading, feel the urge to meet Zorba, to have a bite of his witticism, to immerse, for a moment, into the unbridled impulse that fills up his life, to enter the abyss of the Cretan story. Zorba is not just a charismatic and soft-spoken wanderer who roams throughout the pages igniting and burning the established dogmas, he is the meaning of life – the question or the answer of it, the God and the demon, the existence and death. The same philosophical path has grasped Kazantzakis when he first met the real Alexis Zorba and provoked by his ingenuous conception of life the novel was conceived.

“Zorba The Greek” it is not an ethnographic book of the Greeks, nor praise of the Greek ethos, rather it is a manifestation of freedom and contentedness beyond the moral boundaries imposed by the society.

To me, “Zorba The Greek” was just the beginning of what later became to be a great Kazantzakis passion. As an ordinary reader I haven’t been as much devoted to any other author as I am to Kazantzakis. I have read and compared his works in different languages and struggled greatly with the English translation as I find it the least precise and accurate to the original. The good news for the anglophone reader is that as of 2014 there is finally a new translation of “Zorba The Greek” and some other works of Kazantzakis by professor Peter Bien who has devoted a large part of his life to the Greek writer and philosopher. I strongly urge you to look for Mr. Bien’s translations because in Kazantzakis’ prose every single nuance matters.

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Serpent and Lily by Nikos Kazantzakis

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Last week as I was aimlessly browsing around the sections of Vancouver Public Library, I suddenly remembered an old book I always wanted to read – “Serpent and Lily”. This is the first literary work of Nikos Kazantzakis and I wondered if VPL would have a copy of it, since it  hasn’t been re-published for decades, and copies of it are scarce.

Luckily, there was one wisely resting on the shelf.

“Serpent and Lily” appeared into this world in 1906, while Kazantzakis was still a student in University of Athens. The first sore routs of the unrequited love are not only the inspiration of the author to write the novel, but also the salvation of the demonic influence of this devastating love on his soul.

In this literary work Kazantzakis transforms himself in an inspired artist and by the natural laws of existence meets his beloved who morphs into a muse, a flower and a demon in the heart of the artist.

Dec 24th

“O when I imagine You in the tomb, wild instincts of sensuality and horror rise like waves in my blood and I feel the urge to trap You and press my lips on Your lips and clasp You with all the strength of hopelessness and love, to become one flesh, to melt together in the same flame of one embrace – to compress our whole body in one unending kiss and die at night, at midnight, in a single thunderbolt of pleasure – so that death will find nothing to take but a few ashes. “

“Serpent and Lily” is a diary-novel, intimate and poetic where the main character suffers the euphoria, the obsession and the corruption of his passion. The narration resembles an ancient Greek tragedy, where the characters wrapped in a shroud of the mystery of time, walk the path of understanding their own feelings. This aspect is peculiar to Kazantzakis’ works, where the inner sensation and perception of the world, the formation, the life and the death of feeling is manifesting over events and story lines.

“Serpent and Lily” is Kazantzakis’ aspiration to engage art and philosophy through the elegant form of the verbal expression. An ambition which once born becomes а distinctive signature that encompasses his works. Kazantzakis draws inspiration from the worlds inhabiting his soul – from the murkiest abyss to the rising of the spirit.

Nov 20th

“I sense that the thing I am seeking is higher than love and higher than the joy of life and higher than science and glory and higher even than starts. Don’t keep my wings tied in Your embrace.

You are only a shadow and only a smile in the great journey of my soul. Your eyes are the two clear springs where my thoughts came to drink and rest for a moment. And between Your breasts hides the soft pillow where I slept for a moment in order to waken again. Don’t hold me bound. The enigma is not hidden in Your Lions nor in Your enormous eyes. And Your arms are small and weak and do not embrace my entire soul. There is a magnet above the stars that pulls me. And my entire body shudders, magnetized by the Great Nostalgia and the Great Longing. Someone is pulling at me from the stars. Do not hold me bound. The thing I am seeking is higher than love and higher than the joy of life. “

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