Zorba the Greek
by Nikos Kazantzakis
translated from Greek by Carl Wildman
The novel’s narrator (a thinly fictionalised version of the author) is a young scholar who decides to go to a remote part of Crete to try his hand at running a lignite mine. As he’s about to set off from Piraeus he’s approached by a man called Alexis Zorba, a jack-of-all-trades who has some mining experience and offers to be the narrator’s second-in-command. The narrator is immediately entranced by the older man and agrees to all terms, despite all the evidence that suggests Zorba is neither reliable nor loyal. Over the months that follow they become firm friends and help each other to cope with the accidents and tragedies that come their way.
The narrator is clearly a man of some means, throwing himself into his new business and hiring a team of men without really knowing what he’s doing. He has a vague idea that he might stumble across something more valuable than lignite – presumably gems of some kind – but his main purpose is a more politically motivated one. As a socialist, he wants to get to know some working class men. The problem is, he sees all the local villagers as ignorant and foul, and he makes no effort to actually get to know anyone other than Zorba.