Do you ever feel that pressure to like a book, especially when reading the big names from world literature?
Recently, I read Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis. I bought it almost five years ago, when I was visiting Athens. My best friend adores the movie and I saw the book mentioned in many lists of world literature, so I expected a masterpiece. But after quite some soul-searching I have to admit: I just don’t like it.
First some parts I did like: the Greekness of the book. I like the descriptions of the landscape, the food, the materiality of the world. The story takes place on Crete and the island is described very vividly. I haven’t been in Greece for years but I almost started to miss it.
The part that bothers me is mostly the characters and their rampant misogyny. And I can say “product of its time” a thousand times to myself but that doesn’t take away that horrible feeling that Zorba, who the narrator looks up to, has a terrible view on women. Many times they are denied personhood, and when they are considered people, they are bad people. The narrator is less outspoken in these things, but constantly gives Zorba a platform for his views, never contradicts him and often enables his misogyny.
Many of the plotlines and jokes of the book are based on this view on women, so it becomes almost impossible to appreciate any of the jokes in the book. Zorba’s toxic remarks go completely unchecked and the narrator’s admiration for Zorba doesn’t help. He seems to look up to Zorba’s confidence, but confidence without reason is nothing to be proud of. Zorba might be charismatic and a good foreman, but the ease with which he degrades women is too overwhelming in this novel.
I’ll probably get a hundred “you just don’t get it”, “you have to look past it” and “you can’t take a joke” but honestly, I’m sick of it. I’m sick of seeing my humanity denied over and over in literature. And I want to stop making excuses for it. And I don’t need to make excuses for it. This book was published in 1952, for goodness sake. I’m not going to be guilt-tripped into liking this book because a bunch of men decided it’s world literature. This book makes me feel like crap and I don’t like it.