Zorba the Greek is based on Kazantzakis’s friendship with a real person, George Zorba, who helped the author in an ill-fated scheme to mine lignite in Greece. In the novel, the first-person narrator, known as “The Boss” (a title that Zorba gives him), who is a slightly changed version of Kazantzakis himself, journeys not to Greece but to Crete to mine the coal. Zorba, who fascinates and captivates The Boss the moment that they meet, keeps urging his employer to cast aside convention and live life more fully. He demonstrates how to do this by dancing, playing his guitarlike santuri, and spouting life-affirming philosophy and declarations about the nature of God, which are usually jokes and riddles. For example, Zorba explains the chaos of the physical world by pointing out that fishers pray to God to make fish blind so that they will swim into the nets; the fish pray to God to make the fishers blind so that they will cast their nets in the wrong places. Since God is the God of both fishers and fish, sometimes God listens to the prayers of the fish and sometimes to the prayers of the fishers, so sometimes fish are caught and sometimes they are not.
Zorba is also a confidence man, but a good-hearted one; the tables are turned on him by women, for part of the way in which he affirms life is to romance every woman who seems a likely partner, sometimes getting fooled himself and in the process losing much of The Boss’s money. The most...
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