Monday, October 28, 2013
Review of Zorba The Greek
Some top 100 lists include Zorba The Greek in the best books of all time. Gimme a break. Before reading it, I had several times stumbled upon quotes from this work, like the following, which encouraged me to read it, : “All those who actually live the mysteries of life haven't the time to write, and all those who have the time don't live them!” Not bad. But the seemingly profound, extrapolated statements are absolutely wrung dry and beggared by a literary and philosophical context as poor as any I’ve ever read. Zorba is a sensualist, a completely lascivious man able only to offer intuitive observations about the world which came across to me as childish, offhand, and specious. Also, the narrator portrays himself, perhaps unintentionally, as weak-willed and swayed by every insect-like whim of Zorba. He is convinced that Zorba is somehow plugged in deeply to his human ancestral roots and thus closer to the meaning of life than most. I see nothing of the sort. Zorba is honest, passionate, and strong…but not emotionally/ relationally/ intellectually evolved. Reason has, I believe, made possible a better life for mankind, and even if it hasn’t yet been made to work for some, going backward hardly solves our problems. Zorba’s primitive instincts are easy to understand and consistent, but they aren’t forceful or pragmatic in the long run. I understand that the author is attempting to depict a contrast between Zorba and the narrator, between instinct and intellect, but he falls too easily the side of the destitute animal and not the struggling angel in humanity.
More specifically, Zorba is an undisciplined skirt-chaser who punches his boss without a thought about consequences, rages about trivial events, is driven by hunger, changes him mind about the world every day, relentlessly pursues old widows to sleep with in his travels, and harasses his friend when he won’t sleep around with new women that he meets. To be frank, I just grew sick of Zorba’s crudeness and never-ending rants about his fondness for seducing, and being seduced by, old women. I can only take so much bruv.
Granted, Zorba is interesting, colorful, romantic at times, and a hard worker, but mostly he is a joke. This guy is a Bohemian flop whose libidinous wisdom is simplistic and, if anything from him seems profound, it is quickly mudded over by a raving tantrum or story that clearly identifies him as the idiot some poor village lost. Mostly his cleverness is accidental or it is a primal, instinctual urge transmogrified into something more insightful by the alchemy of the more enlightened narrator. Which reminds me, I did like the narrator’s bash against Buddha, believe it or not, when he referred to Buddha as a person who cleansed himself of a will to live and no longer loved this life. I, personally, think Buddha was more than that within his environment, as he emancipated his Hindu brothers from the tyranny of an old asceticism and helped his followers realize a new form and interpretation of happiness not dependent on material possessions or sensory pleasure. I also think secular Buddhism has a lot to offer Western thinkers, but the author’s jibe against him was well-played nonetheless.
I kept waiting on the book to change tracks and allow the narrator to pull away from Zorba’s extreme lustiness and intemperance, but it didn’t happen. Good luck mining the few gems out of this one.