Zorba the Greek

by Nikos Kazantzakis

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Zorba the Greek

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ZORBA THE GREEK is the story of a unique friendship between two men of markedly different life-styles. The narrator is a reserved, sensitive ascetic who is suffering from the trauma of a broken friendship. Zorba is everything the narrator is not. A man of the world, fond of drinking, dancing, womanizing, Zorba joins with the narrator in a lignite mining operation that he believes will make both their fortunes. While “the Boss,” as Zorba calls the narrator, provides the capital and supervises from a distance, Zorba takes charge of operations and works with the hired hands. When the venture fails, the narrator is crushed, but Zorba bounces back quickly and resurrects the narrator’s optimism. The same thing happens when their second business venture, a foresting operation, fails. From these failures, however, the narrator rises a stronger man, able to accept life’s disappointments.

The real story in this novel is the education of the narrator in the hands of his worldly-wise friend. Zorba teaches him that the pleasures of this world are not in themselves evil. Though he plays to excess, Zorba is nevertheless too largehearted and concerned about others to be seen as a kind of devil. Zorba’s tutoring is best exemplified in their love affairs. Both fall in love, Zorba with an old prostitute, the narrator with a comely widow. Both women die, the latter at the hands of an irate mob; Zorba is able to accept his beloved’s death stoically and helps the narrator overcome his grief at the death of the widow. When the two are finally forced to part ways, the narrator is able to accept this, too, as inevitable. Instead of wallowing in grief, he instead decides to write an account of his life with Zorba, preserving for posterity the memory of that experience.

ZORBA THE GREEK is Kazantzakis’ most graphic illustration of the contract between asscetism and sensual fulfillment, a common concern in many of his works. The novel suggests that neither extreme is healthy, and that sensual fulfillment has its place in human nature and should not be rejected totally.


Anapliotes, Giannes. The Real Zorbas and Nikos Kazantzakis. Translated by Lewis A. Rich-ards. Amsterdam: A. M. Hakker, 1978. A comprehensive history of Kazantzakis’ friendship and adventures with the real Zorba, George Zorba, in 1917, during World War I, when they were engaged in coal-mining and tree-harvesting operations.

Bien, Peter. “The Mellowed Nationalism of Kazantzakis’ Zorba the Greek.” Review of National Literatures 5, no. 2 (Fall, 1974): 113-136. Discusses Zorba’s character as an uncommitted patriot who admires Cretan food, oil, wine, and women but does not want to sacrifice his life for Crete.

Elsman, Kenneth R., and John V. Knapp. “Life-Span Development in Kazantzakis’s Zorba the Greek.” International Fiction Review 11, no. 1 (Winter, 1984): 37-44. Analyzes Kazantzakis’ novel within its social and political contexts and examines the different transformations and developments of the novel’s characters.

Givelski, Paskal. “From Homer to Kazantzakis.” Macedonian Review 22, no. 2 (1992): 147-150. A useful review and analysis of the connection between Kazantzakis’ tragic figures. Gives background to aid in understanding characters in Zorba the Greek, such as the village Widow and Pavli, both of whom meet their ends tragically.

Levitt, Morton. “The Companion of Kazantzakis: Nietzsche, Bergson and Zorba.” In The Cretan Glance: The World and Art of Kazantzakis. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1980. An excellent discussion of Zorba’s philosophy as encompassing elements from Friedrich Nietzsche, Henri Bergson, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and Carl Jung.

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Critical Evaluation