Zorba the Comrade

Love him or hate him, Nikos Kazantzakis is a force to be reckoned with. Best known in America for Zorba the Greek and—thanks to the Martin Scorcese movie—The Last Temptation of Christ, Kazantzakis wrote what many consider to be the greatest epic poem of the 20th century, The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel. His impact today, 32 years after his death in 1957, remains powerful, despite the relative obscurity of his native language.

Russia derives from three trips that Kazantzakis made from 1925 through 1929. In his mid-40's at the time, he was simultaneously sympathetic to the Soviet Union and repulsed by it, in a way that was perhaps reflective of his own unresolved tensions in matters of philosophy and art. The sympathy stemmed in part from Kazantzakis' own attempt to reconcile the religious and mystical tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy with modernity and its children, the Enlightenment and material well-being. Marx and Lenin became figures, as large as Moses and Jesus, who had ushered in "a fanatical, mystically passionate and dogmatic religion: atheism." Describing the city of Moscow, he says that the "Kremlin rose in front of me: the heart of Moscow, and today, I believe, the heart of the world."

While it would have been difficult to nominate Calvin Coolidge's Washington as a contender for the title of "Heart of the World," more than sixty...

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