When I first started reading this I found it a little difficult. The reasons for this are that the original language doesn't always translate well and the way the Greeks speak is obviously different to what English speakers are used to. Some things may sound a little odd too, which might make it difficult to take some parts seriously. For example, the expression "in the name of God!" is used quite a lot in what might seem to be inappropriate places. As someone who speaks Greek, I know this is something that is used frequently and it sounds quite normal in the native tongue.
But persevere and you will gain a fascinating insight in what life was like in late 19th century Crete. We see how people live in small towns and villages where everybody knows each other, gossip is rife and news is spread by messengers on foot or horseback. We get an idea of island mentality, its isolation, and suspicion of the bureaucrats on the mainland. We see also the importance of old family values, the role of the man and what makes a good wife (eg, wide child-bearing hips!), and the ultimate example to which every Cretan male aspires to be is the 'wild beast' protagonist, Captain Michales, the soldier who is both feared and admired.
The author frequently reminds us of the beauty of Crete; the fertility of her lands, the sounds of the ocean, the beauty of the mountains. Quite a large part at the start is dedicated to introducing us to life when all is well; the eating, drinking, socialising and the banter of everyday life.
Of course all of this is a backdrop to the main theme of the book which is the long-running conflict between the Turks and the Christians. There is no bias; we see the perspective from both sides as tensions gradually boil up and we enter another wave of hostilities. During these times the characters question the meaning of life, the futility or necessity of war, and whether it's worth dying for your country. But it also touches on a lot of important issues. For example, why people of different faiths can't get along. When one of the Christians takes a Jewish woman, one of the more accepting elders welcomes her as just another person.
Despite the theme there's quite a bit of humour throughout, and overall there's a healthy mix to balance even the most gruesome descriptions.
It would be far to much like stating the obvious to highlight this translation's literal interpretation of Kazantzakis' Greek. Likewise to complain about the slipshop copy editing which runs throughout this edition. Afterall, what other novel can you think of that begins with the unequivocal, simple statement, "Captain Michaeles gnashed his teeth". It is often this simplicity which shines through in this literal translation, and this is to be apprieciated rather than berated in what is an often challenging interpretation of Christian Orthodox, Greek, Crete's independence movement of the 19c. Especially given more recent "independence movements" further north in the Balkans, and again nominally "historic struggles" between Orthodoxy and Islam. Despite certain dark shadows concerning ethnic cleansing on both sides, this is nevertheless a highly evocotive account of the lives of the Greek community in Crete and their struggle with their neighbouring Turkish overlords. It is an epic story and comparable to those epic texts of Tolstoy. Likewise, "Freedom and Death" is grounded by strong characters on both sides of the struggle, and with many details which combine to portray a Crete now lost in the age of tourism. Read this next time you visit Hania, or Rethemnon, and reflect on the heroic and very often violently tragic history of the island of Crete.
this fictionalised history telling the story of a rising in Crete against its Turkish rulers in the late 19th century is fascinating for its unconscious revelation of another kind of society, in fact two: there is the world of the Greeks (or Cretans) and the world of the Turks and peopling both are heroes, eccentrics, men and women, young and old, warriors and priests. The centre of the story moes between the mountains and Megalokastro (present-day Heraklion, Crete's capital) focusing on the cantankerous but fearless Captain Michales, the Achilles figure in this so-called Iliad epic (although the parallels are not very important),who is reportedly based on Kazantzakis' own father. it probably doesn't make it as one of the group world's great pieces of literature, but it has much to admire and appreciate. Women beware: this is a very masculine society. Michales bans his daughter from coming into his presence and death in battle is a virtue.
the story circulates around two blood Brothers - Michales and the Turkish ruler --and their families, friends, lovers, enemies and mututal conflict/admiration. the bitter fight for freedom has been repeated across Africa and the world, and of course Crete is not yet free from its shadow. The book was first published by Faber and Faber in 1956 with the translation by Jonathan Griffin. This is a new edition
This is the third of Nikos Kazantzakes' novels I have read and it is quite simply brilliant. The power of his writing is captured sympathetically in this english translation. The novel describes the lives of the inhabitants of Megalokastro - a town in Crete and their struggle to live under Turkish occupation. The characters are larger than life and through their choices and mistakes we discover the living spirit of Crete. The struggle for national and religious identity as described by Nikos Kazantzakes is as valid in today's society as it was in 19th Century Crete. The religious parallels and symbolism are woven through poetic prose to provide a narrative which is enchanting. It is a book to be savoured and enjoyed many times over.
Kazantzakis' prose is like Crete: full of imagery, sensous and brutal. Captain Michaels based upon his own father is the personification of Crete. His condemnation of school-teachers reflects his father distaste for these pen pushers as well as his hatred of the Frankish Catholic faith and education. These themes also reflect Kazantzakis' own view of himself and his attempts to become a 'man of action'. Like most of his novels they are over written and lack a clear and coherent developmental framework but as I have stated this also is a reflection of Crete; the constant struggle with servitude and then the many Civil Wars. Despite the limitations of the style Kazantzakis' writing is so powerful and poetic that I often wish the novels to be even longer and are always worth re-reading. A true original and a remarkable man and writer.