Zorba the Greek
Zorba the Greek is a novel written by the Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis, first published in 1946. It is the tale of a young Greek intellectual who ventures to escape his bookish life with the aid of the boisterous and mysterious Alexis Zorba. The novel was adapted into a successful 1964 film of the same name as well as a 1968 musical, Zorba.
The book opens in a cafe in Piraeus, just before dawn on a gusty autumn morning in the 1930s. The narrator, a young Greek intellectual, resolves to set aside his books for a few months after being stung by the parting words of a friend, Stavridakis, who has left for the Caucasus in order to help some ethnic Greeks who are undergoing persecution. He sets off for Crete in order to re-open a disused lignite mine and immerse himself in the world of peasants and working-class people.
He is about to dip into his copy of Dante's Divine Comedy when he feels he is being watched; he turns around and sees a man of around sixty peering at him through the glass door. The man enters and immediately approaches him to ask for work. He claims expertise as a chef, a miner, and player of the santuri, or cimbalom, and introduces himself as Alexis Zorba. The narrator is fascinated by Zorba's lascivious opinions and expressive manner and decides to employ him as a foreman. On their way to Crete, they talk on a great number of subjects, and Zorba's soliloquies set the tone for a large part of the book.
On arrival, they reject the hospitality of Anagnostis and Kondomanolious the cafe-owner, and on Zorba's suggestion make their way to Madame Hortense's hotel, which is nothing more than a row of old bathing-huts. They are forced by circumstances to share a bathing-hut. The narrator spends Sunday roaming the island, the landscape of which reminds him of "good prose, carefully ordered, sober… powerful and restrained" and reads Dante. On returning to the hotel for dinner, the pair invite Madame Hortense to their table and get her to talk about her past as a courtesan. Zorba gives her the pet-name "Bouboulina" and, with the help of his cimbalom, seduces her. The protagonist seethes in his room while listening to the sounds of their impassioned lovemaking.
The next day, the mine opens and work begins. The narrator, who has socialist ideals, attempts to get to know the workers, but Zorba warns him to keep his distance: "Man is a brute.... If you're cruel to him, he respects and fears you. If you're kind to him, he plucks your eyes out."
The narrator absorbs a new zest for life from the people around him, but reversal and tragedy mark his stay, and, alienated by their harshness and amorality, he returns to the mainland.