Zorba the Greek - The saint's life of Alexis Zorba - Newly translated by Peter Bien
How much do I want to read more? 7/10
I'm willing to give this book a try. What if it would give me a new perspective/way of living, a new philosophy of life? One I would be searching in books, or trying to unveil from deeply burried memories.
I often wished to write “The Saint’s Life of Alexis Zorba,” a laborer of advanced age whom I exceedingly loved.
Very few people, dead or alive, have helped me in my struggles; yet if I wished to single out those individuals who did engrave their traces most deeply upon my soul, I would presumably designate these four: Homer, Bergson, Nietzsche, and Zorba.
Zorba taught me to love life and not to fear death.
If today I were to choose a spiritual guide from the whole wide world—a “guru,” as they say in India, a “venerable father” as the monks say at Mount Athos—the one I would choose without fail would be Zorba. He possessed precisely what a pen pusher needs for deliverance: the primitive glance that snatches nourishment lovingly from on high; the creative artlessness, renewed at each daybreak, that views everything unceasingly as though for the first time, bequeathing virginity to the everlastingly quotidian elements of wind, sea, fire, women, and bread; the sureness of hand, the freshness of heart, the gallant stalwart’s ability to poke fun at his own soul for seeming to harbor a power higher than the soul; finally, that wild, throaty laugh welling up from a source deeper than a man’s inner depths, a laugh that erupted redemptively at crucial moments from Zorba’s elderly chest, exploding with sufficient power to demolish (and did demolish) all the barricades—morality, religion, nationalism—erected around themselves by wretched, lily-livered humans to let them hobble securely through their diminished mini-lives.
I can hardly endure my rage and sorrow when I consider what nourishment my famished soul was fed by books and teachers for so many years, and then compare this to the leonine brainpower that Zorba fed me for just a few months. My life was fated to be ruined because I encountered this “venerable father” too late, when the portion of my inner self still capable of being saved was minimal. The great alteration—the definitive change of front, the “conflagration” and “renewal”—did not take place. The time was already too late. Thus Zorba, instead of becoming an exalted, authoritative model for my life, was sadly debased into a literary subject causing me to fill numerous sheets of paper with splotches!
Most of the time I said nothing. What could an intellectual say to an ogre? I would listen to him speak about his village near Mount Olympus, about snow, wolves, terrorists during the Balkan Wars, Hagia Sophia, lignite, magnesite, women, God, patriotism, death. Then, suddenly, when he was choking and no longer able to find room for words, he would leap up onto the beach’s rough shingle and start to dance.
If I had listened to his voice—not his voice, his outcry—my life would have become worthwhile. I would have experienced with blood, flesh, and bone what I now ponder like a hashish smoker and effectuate with paper and ink.
But I did not dare. I would see Zorba dancing at midnight with horse-like whinnies, bellowing at me to slip out of my comfortable shell of prudent habit and to flee with him on great journeys. But I remained motionless, shuddering.
Many times in my life I have been ashamed because I caught my soul not daring to do what supreme folly—life’s essence—was calling me to do. But never did I feel so ashamed of my soul as I did when in the presence of Zorba.
He dynamited boulders, constructed roads, brought water, built a house, and married—the lusty old codger!
One day when I was in Berlin I received a telegram: “FOUND MOST BEAUTIFUL GREEN STONE. COME IMMEDIATELY. ZORBA.”
But I did not depart. Once again, I did not dare. I did not board a train, did not obey the divinely ferocious internal outcry, did not perform a gallant, irrational deed. Following the sensible, frigid, human voice of reason, I took up my pen, wrote to Zorba, and explained.
He answered me: “Forgive me for saying this, Boss, but you are a pen pusher. You poor creep, you had the chance of a lifetime to see a beautiful green stone, and you didn’t see it. By God, sometimes when I have no work to do, I sit down and ask myself, ‘Is there a hell or isn’t there?’ But yesterday, when I received your letter, I said to myself, ‘There sure is a hell for certain pen pushers!’ ”
Even the most insignificant events related to him gleam clearly, preciously, in my mind at this moment, darting swiftly like multicolored fish in summer’s diaphanous seawater. Nothing of his has been lost to me; everything Zorba touched seems to have become immortal.