PAIN and JAPAN/CHINA by Nikes Kazantzakis


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Greece's late great Nikos Kazantzakis was once asked what single thing had most influenced his life. Dreams and travels, he answered. And judging by the two books under discussion here, Kazantzakis wasn't fooling. For these journeys through Spain, Japan and China are an almost dream-like delight- marvelously sensitive, sensual evocations, lustrously written, lovingly recalled, philosophically buoyant. ""When I close my eyes in order to enjoy a country again"", says Kazantzakis, ""my five senses, the five mouth-filled tentacles of my body, pounce upon it and bring it to me"". He visited Spain first in the '20's, then later during the Civil War; two years prior, in the '30's he voyaged to the Far East; thus there is nothing in either account of Ivory Tower antiquarianism or tourist-with-camera silliness. The Kazantzakis eye turns both inward and outward: he is just as astonishing when describing the splendors of Kyoto or Peking, Madrid or Cordoba, as he is when pinpointing the psychology of the people or soothsaying the political temper- about which, incidentally, subsequent events have proven him quite right. Behind the multiplicity of everything, Kazantzakis sought the spirit of person and place and he is analytically unflinching about it: the Spanish ""passion has a most bitter root; despair""; Japan ""unites power and grace- silent, determined, dangerous""; in China there is ""the indomitable hatred between the sexes.... the man who wants to lift his head upward and the woman who enraptures him, whistles and throws him down again to the ground"". And some parts seem fated to become collector's items, such as that shattering scene with the ""terrifying old porcupine, Unamuno"" ranting during the siege of Alcazar, or those pages on bullfighting and El Greco- gloriously good! Kazantzakis, we are told, has elsewhere written on England, the Soviet Union and the Mediterranean. After Spain, Japan, China, we can only hope that translators will get busy.

Publisher: Simon & Schuster