Thursday, October 17, 2013

Nikos Kazantzakis: The Greek Passion

Nikos Kazantzakis:  The Greek Passion
Simon and Schuster
Trans.  by Jonathan Griffen

Lycovrissi is a small Greek village that is under Turkish control.  Every seven years, the villagers put on the Passion Play, the story of the last days of Christ.  Six villagers are selected by the village  Elders to play the parts of Christ, Mary Magdalen,  the Apostles Peter, John, James, and Judas in next year's Play.  The story, then, depicts the changes undergone by these six villagers in the ensuing year,  as a result of being chosen for a part in the Passion Play.  And, they change in surprising, unpredictable, and disturbing ways.

The characters in the novel are numerous and come from all the various social and economic classes in the village.  They range from the Agha, the Turkish ruler of the small village, and his household,  to the village Elders to the small shopkeepers and farmers.  Also present, a thorn in the side of the Elders, are the Wanderers, the survivors of a small village destroyed in the ongoing conflict between the Turkish overlords and Greek freedom fighters.  They have been searching for some place to stay. But, led by Gregoris, the village priest, the Elders attempt to force the Wanderers to move on, in spite of their obvious physical weaknesses caused by months of wandering the countryside.

However, three of the villagers selected for the Passion Play--Manolios, Yannakos, and Kostandis, who play Christ, Peter, and James--defy  Grigoris and direct the wanderers to a place where they may at least rest for awhile, and perhaps attempt to rebuild their lives.  Other villagers give food and clothing.  This is the first of numerous incidents in which Manolios, Yannakos, and Kostandis openly challenge the village priest and the Elders as they attempt to act in accordance with the teachings of Christ.  In other words, they ask themselves, "What would Christ do in this situation?" 

The roles that the six villagers are to play in the Passion Play begin to affect them as they attempt to become worthy of the roles they were selected to play.  Unfortunately this also includes Panayotaros. who was chosen to be Judas because of his wild and uncontrolled behavior.   Irate, he decides that if they want a Judas, he will be one.  Actually he's closer to Satan as he goes about the village, spreading lies, creating dissension, and betraying confidences where and when it will do the most harm.

This novel may be disturbing to some readers.  At one point, one of the villagers chosen to be an Apostle, who is the son of one of the richest (and stingiest) men in the village, decides to take some of his father's surplus food and give it to the wanderers.  This suggests a frightening idea--those who have more than they need should share it with those who have less than they need.  The suggestion that Christ and the Apostles should think this way would seem to be heretical to many. 

Part way into the novel, it became clear that this was going to end tragically.  This is not a comfortable novel to read. 

 Overall Rating:  Highly recommended.

No comments:

Post a Comment