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Zorba the Greek
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Monthly Book Reads > Zorba The Greek - June 2018

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Darren (dazburns) | 757 comments Mod
Welcome to the discussion thread for the group's June 2018 selection in the Love category:
Nikos Kazantzakis' Zorba the Greek
Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis

I will be starting this one soon - who's joining me...? :o)


Jackie | 88 comments I will be joining you. Kindle has let me down though, it is not available. I was surprised by that. I have to wait until my second hand copy arrives from Amazon :(


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Fay Roberts | 363 comments @jackie - I can’t believe they do t have it on Kindle....what a shame........I’m in as well


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 565 comments I'm probably going to skip both selections this month--I don't have either on my shelves already at home, so unless I happen to run across some inexpensive copies of them at my local UBS, I'll just have to wait till they come around next time. But I won't even have an opportunity to look for them till the middle of the month, so...happy reading everyone and maybe I'll be in for July.


message 5: by Phrodrick (new)

Phrodrick | 160 comments Having read this one more than once, memorized some parts and of coerce there is the movie and its music, I shall be about.


message 6: by Darren (last edited Jun 15, 2018 06:26AM) (new) - added it

Darren (dazburns) | 757 comments Mod
I got half way through this and DNF'd
just didn't think it was very well written (style/plot were "all over the place"), the characters seemed unrealistic/unsympathetic and it wasn't holding my attention on any other level :o(


message 7: by Fay (new) - added it

Fay Roberts | 363 comments Darren wrote: "I got half way through this and DNF'd
just didn't think it was very well written (style/plot were "all over the place"), the characters seemed unrealistic/unsympathetic and it wasn't holding my att..."


I'm still plodding. I tend to dip in and out of it - a chapter here, a couple there. There isn't much plot and with the book focusing mostly on ideas it demands a lot from the reader in terms of processing it. It's not a page turner that's for sure ;-)


message 8: by Phrodrick (new)

Phrodrick | 160 comments Odd I found it a compelling page turner.
The plot is clearly around around the building of a man out of the mousey Englishman.
Along for the ride is the contract between a society built on passion and ancient tradition and one effete with hesitations and niceties.

The mind of the old is tied to its old ways and old thinking, but authentic and 'from the gut'.
The new has technology and modern ideas, but will the one work inside of the other?
It is the Noble Savage vs the City Slicker.


message 9: by Leslie (last edited Jun 17, 2018 04:02PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Leslie | 825 comments I will be getting my copy at the library tomorrow. I'm a bit nervous now that I see it isn't going well for Darren or Fay! Hopefully I will like it since I nominated it but I guess we'll see...


Claire  | 3 comments I’m going to read it this week. Very curious as some of you don’t like it...


message 11: by Fay (new) - added it

Fay Roberts | 363 comments I don't dislike it; its just a book full of ideas so I'm reading it slowly because after a chapter or two I need to absorb what I've just read. It's very different from, say, The Color Purple, which I picked up last week and couldn't put down until I'd finished because it was driven so much by the plot and events in the narrator's life rather than the inner workings of the narrator. I found I read The Rainbow really slowly for the same reason; it was so full of ideas! That's what I meant about it not been a page turner; it's so driven by inner monologue that I don't have an urge to keep going, keep going, keep going to find out what is going to happen to the characters.
It won't be going on either my most hated or most loved list........
I love that so far there's a hater, a lover and a quite ambivalent view. I can't wait to hear what everyone else thinks :-)


message 12: by Lia (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lia I love that so far there's a hater, a lover and a quite ambivalent view. I can't wait to hear what everyone else thinks :-) 

I wonder if it might have something to do with different translations. I just got this yesterday and I’m only 3 chapters in. As I read, I was surprised Darren disliked the style / plot enough to abandon it; so far it seems like a page turner to me.

But then in the introduction of my copy, the translator mentioned some issues with earlier translations:

“The earlier translation was made by someone who did not know Greek and who worked from a previous translation into French. The result was remarkably good, considering this problem; it won the approval of scores of readers in all the anglophone nations. However, when one places the earlier translation next to the original Greek text, one is quite amazed by the differences: omissions sometimes of many sentences, obvious errors, even commissions, i.e., supposedly translated material not in the Greek text at all.”


Maybe some translations are kinder to the readers?

Anyway… I am ALL OF THOSE THINGS! It doesn’t hurt my brain like Kant or Joyce, it’s enjoyable(?) enough that I can just keep reading all day. But then the misogynist remarks make me want to throw the book across the room.

I expected that to come from the exotic, “Übermensch”-like Zorba … but no, these putrid remarks about women repeatedly came from the supposedly civilized, well-read, introspective, bookish narrator (“boss.”) I don’t know why I find that harder to accept. Maybe it’s because I don’t think of him as “mousey,” I think of him as a run of the mill bourgeoisie bored enough to read Dante and Buddha, with money to spend and will travel — the kind of people “normal” readers can relate to.

But maybe he’s not that “normal,” he seems to worship Zorba even when he “malfunctions” (like when he’s seasick, or in the morning when he’s nearly unable to speak,) but if women around are a little unkempt, he’s disgusted. Maybe there’s something broken about the narrator that makes him latch onto someone exotic (or quixotic.)


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Darren (dazburns) | 757 comments Mod
I thought it might be a translation issue, but it originally became popular when that was the translation everyone read (as far as I know)


message 14: by Lia (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lia Hmm that's true Darren. I suppose there's no good explanation for taste.

The theme of a bookish young man meeting the embodiment of body/sensation/passion focused experienced man, reminds me of Dedalus-Bloom dynamic in Ulysses. (And also Ishmael-Ahab dynamic in Moby-Dick)


Jackie | 88 comments I too am plodding through the book with little joy. I was right to be apprehensive about Kazantzakis. Zorba is much more comprehensible (to me) than the others of his I tried and failed to read, my problem is more with the character of Zorbas, he reminds me a lot of a rather old fashioned type of Greek man they call "mangas", because I am a woman I don't get along with them too well! Fortunately people have moved on from then. One of those cases where I prefer the film to the book. I also found the narrators character unsympathetic. Still, I haven't finished yet, and he's does have some lovely descriptive passages, and I like Madame Hortense.


message 16: by Lia (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lia Ah, taste really is mysterious. I thought the narrator's prose comes through as really, really overwrought. I thought it's clever use of linguistic tics to construct a character that is too stuck inside his head/ his books -- he exaggerates the greatness of a crass man with too-decorative prose, as though he's using words to compensate for a sheltered, self-denying, unlived life.


Jackie | 88 comments I've been told you have to be educated into reading Kazantzakis .


message 18: by Phrodrick (new)

Phrodrick | 160 comments Jackie wrote: "I too am plodding through the book with little joy. I was right to be apprehensive about Kazantzakis. Zorba is much more comprehensible (to me) than the others of his I tried and failed to read, my..."

I would love to hear more about "Mangas". Just guessing he is a left over from an extremely make centric esthetic and not likely to modernize well. Zorba is "manly" in a sense we are , forgive me , too cultured to appreciate.

It has been years since I attempted to read any other Kazantzakis, but I can remember reading this one back to back,

I do have a little bit of name dropping to do about this book, but it will wait


Jackie | 88 comments Hi Phrodrick, I am looking forward to hearing about the names you can drop! A Greek could probably better describe the Mangas to you, but I will give you my impressions. Definitely male centric, but not necessarily violent, passionate, cynical, extravagant (with his friends) but cunning, he drinks and smokes a lot, has a very gruff voice, and dances like Zorba! Google translate says "tough guy" which is probably as close I can get.


message 20: by Fay (new) - added it

Fay Roberts | 363 comments Who's at chapter 22?!?!??!


Jackie | 88 comments Not yet :(


message 22: by Lia (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lia Jackie wrote: "Definitely male centric, but not necessarily violent, passionate, cynical, extravagant (with his friends) but cunning, he drinks and smokes a lot, has a very gruff voice, and dances like Zorba! Google translate says "tough guy" which is probably as close I can get. "

Sounds like a Greek Hemingway! That's partly why I felt the narrator's introspective, philosophizing prose (Stephen Dedalus-like, if you're a Joyce reader) is so jarring. He's supposedly abandoning the paper-pushing city life for the rough miner life on Crete right? But he writes like Henry James.

I also think he's a bit of an "irrationalist" -- DO IT BECAUSE YOU WANT TO! What are you going to do, measure my merits with coffee spoons?? (I made that up.)

Also: I'd strike the sun finger if it insulted impeded me.


message 23: by Lia (last edited Jun 22, 2018 11:50PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lia I'm groping for an impression here... the merging of modernity and the mythical, the privileging of the sexual/ primitive impulses and sensory experience over rationality, the verge of "madness" and boat travel and dying dyeing of hair to imitate youth ... all remind me of Thomas Mann's Death in Venice.


message 24: by Lia (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lia I don’t know why but this made me laugh. Possibly in embarrassment. I may or may not have fantasized about that

“Your Excellency wants to build a monastery and to place there, instead of monks, various pen pushers like your noble self to read and write night and day and you’d issue printed ribbons from their mouths, as is done with various monks we see on paintings. Eh, I found it, didn’t I?”
Saddened, I hung my head. These were juvenile dreams from the past, large wings now plucked, yearnings naive, noble, lofty: namely, that we might found an intellectual commune where a dozen or so comrades—musicians, painters, poets—might enclose themselves in order to work the whole day, meeting one another and talking only in the evening. I had already drafted the commune’s charter and had discovered the building: at St. John the Hunter’s in a pass through the Hymettus range.



Jackie | 88 comments Done! I thought Zorba had moments of brilliance, especially when the plot was foremost. If only Kazantzakis could have refrained from his repetitious rants on the weakness of women etc.


Leslie | 825 comments Lia wrote: "I don’t know why but this made me laugh. Possibly in embarrassment. I may or may not have fantasized about that

“Your Excellency wants to build a monastery and to place there, instead of monks, va..."


That made me chuckle as well!

I am enjoying this. I have hazy memories of the Anthony Quinn movie but the unnamed narrator (Kazantzakis himself?) is much more prominent in this than I recall from the film...

I have the Peter Bien translation - which translation are the rest of you using?


Jackie | 88 comments I still love the film, as you said the narrator is more prominent in the book, and perhaps Antony Quinn brought some qualities of his own to it. The plot remains essentially the same.


message 28: by Lia (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lia I haven’t seen the movie, I find both the narrator and Zorba insufferably misogynistic — the narrator is disgusted and repulsed by women; Zorba … well, he pities and “conquers”. Zorba can only tolerate his needs by making women out to be helpless, and it’s men’s job to “save" them. This seems to be more about his psychological makeup, I’m not convinced that’s Kazantzakis’ conception of real women.

I read that Kazantzakis studied with Bergson at Sorbonne, I suspect he’s working out Bergson's abstract proposition in novel form, I enjoy that. I gave the book 4 stars at first, I took a star away because the misogyny really is hard to stomach. That’s my lily-livered, bloodless act of “aggression."

What I admire is the idea that a tamed, civilized, domesticated “pen pusher” found something to admire about Zorba. I’m also a “pen pusher” who fantasize about a quiet life of reading and discussing books with polite people all day, every day, preferably free from the Jones that would judge my furniture or my fashion. The difference between the narrator and me is that he can temper his judgments and fall in love with the child-like, untamable creative force embodied by Zorba. If these characters see women and vagina and birth as disgusting sewage and still “love” them in some way, why can’t I see the worthy (?) side of their grotesque “elan"? The narrator made me wonder why I automatically raise my eyebrow at people like Zorba, a trickster who says YES! to life, and accepts all the troubles life throws at him, and laughs at things that defeat and shame and intimidate him.

I gave the 5th star back when I realized I want to read more books by Kazantzakis. He made me step out of my comfort zone, just like how Zorba drew “boss” out of his. That makes him a pretty good writer IMO.


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 565 comments Lia wrote: "I gave the 5th star back when I realized I want to read more books by Kazantzakis...."

Are you getting ready to start on The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel?


message 30: by Lia (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lia I was going to start, I didn't look at the page count when I placed it on hold.

And then I saw the size of that thing... I'm afraid I can't start until August.


message 31: by Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (last edited Jun 27, 2018 09:44AM) (new) - added it

Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 565 comments Lia wrote: "I was going to start, I didn't look at the page count when I placed it on hold.

And then I saw the size of that thing... I'm afraid I can't start until August."


The little that I've looked it over (I haven't read it) makes me think it's probably on level with Finnegan's Wake. The problem is is that you probably won't have near as much help with the references, given all the study guides available for Joyce. I have to admit I'm tempted though--I read through The Odyssey again last year while reading Ulysses, and thought 'a sequel' might be interesting. I don't know if I'm up for it or not, but let me know when you think you might start (believe me--no hurry), and if I can, I might pick it up and try to read through some of it with you.


message 32: by Lia (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lia Bryan wrote: " it's probably on level with Finnegan's Wake. ..."

Thanks for the heads-up Bryan, I feel intimidated, but not surprised. Zorba and the annoyingly frequent name-dropping of philosophers kind of reminds me of Finnegans Wake. (Hope this isn’t a spoiler, BTW, but there is no (view spoiler))

Let me bring Odyssey 2.0 home and look at it for a bit, I suspect (based on Zorba) it would be good to read it right after Conrad (another modernist who wrote quite a bit about revolution, modern identity, voyage, and words that mask, and inherent darkness of the west …)

Which means I probably want to defer this until after you finish the Conrad project (I’ll participate.) And I probably want to brush up on Bergson as well.

Or you pranked me and I’m overthinking this ¯\_(°_o)_/¯


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 565 comments No pranks. All I can say is that I looked it over, and for some reason decided it wasn't the right time to plunge in. (And thanks for the apostrophe clue)


message 34: by Lia (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lia Thanks again Bryan, I'm looking at Odyssey 2.0 now, it's not as crazy as Finnegans Wake, but it's still pretty intimidating. (At least the English translation comes with standard spellings and pronounceable words ... )

I can already tell this Odysseus is like the polar opposite of Joyce's.

I still think it would be good to pick this up after we're done with Conrad.


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 565 comments Lia wrote: "I still think it would be good to pick this up after we're done with Conrad. "

I'm in no hurry. You let me know if and when.


message 36: by Phrodrick (new)

Phrodrick | 160 comments It may be that a we need a different way of thinking about Zorba. He is presented to us as a man and as a archetype. Certainly male, if not male triumphant. Alternately condescending and tender towards women and certainly full of himself.

My suggestion is that he is in fact a spirit. A woodland sprite. Drawn from the same thinking that give us the mud men in South West Native American traditions. Or Loki among the Norse Gods.

Not evil, mischievous. He does not inspire greatness, but ask us to see the fun and seize adventure, even if misbegotten adventure.

He is tied to older traditions and animal nature, even as he fumbles about in an emerging modern.

He moves naturally among the people of this land, mostly superstitious and ill educated. He can play the fathers of the monastery. Then he fails, spectacularly in his effort to build a machine. Has he harmed 'Boss? Perhaps, but he has connected the mousy academic with a larger and older world.


Jackie | 88 comments I love that Zorba has created debate, and like Lia said takes us out of our "comfort zone", it was a novel that created a reaction in many of us.


message 38: by Lia (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lia Phrodrick wrote: "My suggestion is that he is in fact a spirit. A woodland sprite. Drawn from the same thinking that give us the mud men in South West Native American traditions. Or Loki among the Norse Gods.

Not evil, mischievous. He does not inspire greatness, but ask us to see the fun and seize adventure, even if misbegotten adventure."



That's an interesting way of looking at it, but I want to argue that there is merit in seeing him as thoroughly realistic, thoroughly human, as opposed to some kind of fantastic spirit.

The unflinching depiction of his bodily, humanly needs, his sense of shame, his fear of aging, his love for food and alcohol and women and indulgences -- make him a very corporeal being, not unlike Leopold Bloom in Ulysses. Except Zorba is self-aggrandizing and grandiloquent, whereas Bloom is not (except in the Circe dream-sequence where everything is upside down.)

The only reason I want to compare these two characters is because I think both authors are trying to write realistic characters that belong to our world. They are simultaneously exceptional and realistic. They aren't escapist entertainments.

Given the circumstance of Nazi occupation at the time of writing Zorba, I also like to imagine Zorba as the kind of personality that could make a "free" world possible.

After a century of being obsessed with ourselves, we woke up to the nightmare of fascism and holocaust. We had high hopes for enlightenment, the possibility of freedom unique to human made possible by rational thoughts (i.e. Kantian idealism.) We thought progress was inevitable, but that faith was brutally crushed, the pinnacle of "enlightened" high culture was crying out for fascism, the mass blindly following authoritarian leaders, cheering genocide.

The bourgeois polite society might just be the face of such false promise. To have freedom, modern men (and women) need a different model.

I'm not saying contempt for women is needed for freedom, but I think it's fair to say that Kazantzakis imagined a kind of freedom that is unconcerned with the bourgeoise policing of etiquette and politeness. For all the offensive things Zorba said, (no doubt a symptom of his non-conformist personality,) he was thoroughly in love with the least of his brothers (or sisters,) he was always ready to risk his life to save others, he was the only one who tried to physically stop the murder of the young widow, he didn't judge or get disgusted by the poor and hungry people for their predatory ransacking of his dying lovers' home. He's very strange, very unconventional, very offensive on the surface, but if more people were like Zorba, the world might actually be a better place.


message 39: by Phrodrick (last edited Jun 30, 2018 09:23AM) (new)

Phrodrick | 160 comments Lia wrote: "Phrodrick wrote: "My suggestion is that he is in fact a spirit. A woodland sprite. Drawn from the same thinking that give us the mud men in South West Native American traditions. Or Loki among the ..."

Yours is the more compelling and informative view.
Thanks

I had promised a little name dropping.
At the time I was first reading this my next door neighbor was a grad student at Tulane. I used to baby sit his kids.

I think I had just finished reading it back to back.
His comment was that "Zorba was a loser".

The Grad student? A fellow from Georgia. Newt Gingrich.


Jackie | 88 comments Excellent!


message 41: by Lia (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lia You know, Phrod, I'd laugh, but I've also scribbled "pathetic" somewhere on the margin. (It's a pencil! I get to erase it!)

I mean, Newt is an insult to all the wonderful and adorable newts out there, but I also think it takes an exceptional mind to immediately perceive, and appreciate, and fall in love with the human goodness embodied by Zorba. I started out thinking there's something defective about "boss." By the end, I question why can't I be more like him, why am I so busy judging people by their etiquette, as opposed to seeing the good they do.


Leslie | 825 comments OK, so I have returned the book to the library so I can't back up my statements with quotes.

I strongly disagree with the previous post(s) characterizing Zorba and the narrator as misogynists. Their attitudes may have been (were) sexist but neither of them displayed hatred of women in my opinion. In fact, I feel that Zorba showed in several of his stories the feeling that women as well as men were entitled to take & discard a lover as they wished - a very 'feminist' attitude for a Greek man of that time!

In the afterword of my edition, it was made clear that the author based the character on an actual person he had met - George Zorba, as well as that of Madame Hortense, though in real life the two never met.

I found the unnamed narrator (Kranzantzakis I presume) reminded me a lot of myself. Although I am not a writer, he and I both tend to live in our mind rather than our heart so I could empathize with both his desire to emulate Zorba's simple enjoyment of life and his inability to truly do so.

Sorry to be so late in adding my comments. My RL intervened...


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