Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

August Books 10) Zorba the Greek, by Nikos Kazantzakis

Famously the basis for a film which won three Oscars (and which I haven't seen), it's a novel published in 1946 but mostly set in the early 1930s, about an intellectual young chap who gets put in charge of a mine in Crete and becomes friends with the sensual older man he chooses as foreman, Alexis Zorba. While our narrator struggles with deep philosophical issues and his relationship with Buddha, Zorba enjoys the landscape, the food, the drink, the dancing and the women of Crete and shames the narrator into taking himself a bit less seriously while favouring him with nuggets of folk wisdom - though death and violence (both political and domestic) are never far away. Zorba ends up in Skopje during the second world war, which is where the bloke he is based on is buried; Serbia and Macedonia also claim links to him. I enjoyed the lyrical descriptions of the setting (and the food), though I felt the central narrative point of brain vs heart was rather overdone in the course of the 350 pages, and our manly central characters' attitude to women is pretty unenlightened.

My strangest memory of the syrtaki dance comes from much later, when I attended a NATO conference in Belgrade in 2001. This was the first NATO event in Serbia after the Kosovo war, held in the InterContinental Hotel (where Arkan had been gunend down in January of the previous year), two blocks from the Ušće Tower which was still standing despite having been hit by several Tomahawk missiles in 1999 (this was September 2001, so collapsing tower blocks were on everyone's mind). Rather surprisingly, the atmosphere between the local military and the NATO visitors was rather cordial, and I vividly remember, as the band struck up Mikis Theodorakis' music at the conference dinner, the somewhat rotund chaps from Brussels and the Yugoslav officers draped arms across shoulders and danced together as the rest of us clapped in time. (Except the Russians, who were looking very grumpy indeed.)
Tags: bookblog 2014, world: greece, world: serbia
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