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Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis 10/10

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Zorba the Greek

Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis


Zorba is a passionate lover, brave fighter, a hard-working miner, an endless adventurer, soulful musician and a lot more. He cooks with intent, tells you stories around the fire and often dances to express things he finds difficult to put in words.

Set in the Greek island of Crete, Zorba the Greek — is a story centred around a full of life character Zorba, who is sixty and his friendship with the narrator and his master, who is thirty-ish.

The story is the adventure of life, that happens when they set forth on a journey to set up a lignite mine.

But this is not a book review. This is about Zorba and what he can teach every one of us.

Lessons from Zorba

  1. Focus

With business models formed around interrupting us and multi-tasking being considered a positive, focus is a rare commodity. No wonder, there is too much of bad work — all around.

'It's all because of doing things by halves,' he would often say to me, and 'saying things by halves, being good by halves, that the world is in the mess it's in today. Do things properly by God! One good knock for each nail and you'll win through! God hates a half-devil ten times more than an arch-devil!'

2. Point of View

We do things that are safe and are often neutral. We are looking at others to tell us what to do and often fail in allowing ourselves to fail. Often taking a middle path, where there is no point of view.

'What Zorba has to do is one thing,' he replied irritably, 'what others have to do is another!

3. Being a Child

Being a child is not about asking questions, it is about seeing things as if for the first time and if it makes you curious, you end up asking questions.

Zorba kicked against a stone, which went rolling downhill. He stopped for a moment in amazement, as if he were seeing this astounding spectacle for the first time in his life. 

He looked round at me, and in his look I discerned faint consternation.

'Boss, did you see that?' he said at last. 'On slopes, stones come to life again.'

I said nothing, but I felt a deep joy. This, I thought, is how great visionaries and poets see everything - as if for the first time. Each morning they see a new world before their eyes; they do not really see it, they create it.

4. Purpose

We are busy trying to find our passion and hence, purpose. Zorba does not believe in it. Every thing that you have put your hand on is meant to be done purposefully. Head, heart and hand, all aligned towards what one is doing.

'Christ is reborn, my friend! Ah! if only I was as young as you! I'd throw myself headlong into everything! Headlong into work, wine, love - everything, and I'd fear neither God nor devil! That's youth for you!'

5. Food

Food is more than eating. It is a ritual and can be one of the most pleasant things. Food nourishes the soul. It is one thing to eat but one is supposed to do justice with it, too.

Tell me what you do with the food you eat, and I'll tell you who you are. Some turn their food into fat and manure, some into work and good humour, and others, I'm told, into God. So there must be three sorts of men. I'm not one of the worst, boss, nor yet one of the best. I'm somewhere between the two. What I eat I turn into work and good 
humour. That's not too bad, after all!' ,

6. Follies

Ashamed of our drawbacks, we love to be normal and be acceptable in world-view. Little to realise that we have commited the biggest mistake of getting beaten into same-ness and not are not unique anymore.

Every man has his folly, but the greatest folly of all, in my view, is not to have one."Did you notice, boss?" he said. "His devil's dead. And now he's empty, poor fellow, completely empty, finished! He will be just like everybody else from now on!"

7. Being Real

The same-ness that we are expected to play out inhibits us. We think too much with our frameworks and spend too much time being diplomatic, measured and correct.

That is what a real man is like, I thought, envying Zorba's sorrow.

A man with warm blood and solid bones, who lets real tears run down his cheeks when he is suffering; and when he is happy he does not spoil the freshness of his joy by running it through the fine sieve of metaphysics.

8. Happiness

We are looking for happiness all around. #love and #happy are one of the most used hashtags in Instagram but happiness is an internal state which we are often in control of.

I at last know what happiness really is. Because it's only now that I have real experience of the old maxim: Happiness is doing your duty, and the harder the duty the greater the happiness.

9. Worry

We over-analyse situations to immobility. Thinking too much, doing little. Worrying about everything. As a quote goes — Worry is like praying for things you do not want.

'I've stopped thinking all the time of what happened yesterday. And stopped asking myself what's going to happen tomorrow. What's happening today, this minute, that's what I care about. 
I say: "What are you doing at this moment, Zorba?" "I'm sleeping." "Well, sleep well." "What are you doing at this moment, Zorba?" "I'm working.' "Well, work well." "What are you doing at this moment, Zorba?" "I'm kissing a woman." "Well, kiss her well, Zorba! And forget all the rest while you're doing it; there's nothing else on earth, only you and her! Get on with it!'"

10. Pen-pusher

Most of us in the internet world are as Zorba calls ‘Pen-pushers’. We read too much about everything and have opinions about things, we have never lived or touched or seen.

I haven't the time to write. Sometimes it's war, sometimes women, sometimes wine, sometimes the santuri: where would I find time to drive a miserable pen? That's how the business falls into the hands of the pen-pushers! 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! D'you see?'

11. Pride

If you have gone head-long into everything and have done what your gut has told you, you have led an interesting life. Right or wrong — do not have regrets. Feel proud, feel great, feel invincible.

'"Listen, just another minute. If some priest or other comes to take my confession and give me the sacrament, tell him to clear out, quick, and leave me his curse instead! I've done heaps and heaps of things in my life, but I still did not do enough. Men like me ought to live a thousand years. Good night!"

This is not an unputdownable book. This is a book that demands you to stop being a pen-pusher and go out and seek life.

While reading, you feel like Zorba is laughing at you and going in his head — ‘Look, here is another pen pusher. He needs to read to know about how to live.’


You tend to love Zorba but suddenly you realise that you are caught. Caught when you are in awe of Zorba. That’s when you realise you have hardly felt like Zorba, in your life. You are the pen-pushing narrator.

Zorba was the man I had sought so long in vain. A living heart, a 
large voracious mouth, a great brute soul, not yet severed from mother earth.

This could be an uncomfortable book, though. It has death, injustice. It has violence, chauvinism, sexism, inequality and misogyny. If you read through the lines you will also see why Zorba even with his views on women is still better than those who think well, but never act. You realise that he has follies.

You are free to hate him, love him or ignore him. It does not matter.

But as Zorba would say, make up your mind.

Just do not be a pen pusher.

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