THE ROCK GARDEN by Nikos Kazantzakis


Email this review


First published in Paris in 1936, The Rock Garden is a marvel of violently passionate writing. It is no customary novel, but rather an agonized poem, with accompanying action in the marginalia. The story, what there is, must be sheltered, in interest of reader-interest. It is about, however, the metaphysical education of Nikos Kazantzakis, and develops as stiffly as a Noh actor, without transitional passages or exposition, only a narrative shorthand of impressions. Pinned against the background of the impending Sino-Japanese War, an apolitical Greek poet wavers between his love of both nations. Motives for aggression by each side are rendered accurately as a shriek. The narrator, though, is in revolt against his Christian sensibilities and interested only in a new reason for being. All is wooded with such anguished intellectuality as will frighten most readers back into brighter, gentler pastures. About a third of the book is as grand as can be written. Much of the rest is so-so; lyric and philosophic, in metaphor about metaphor. The great parts, though, make most living novelists sound very low-key indeed, particularly the narrator's voluptuous first penetration into the crawling Chinese quarter of Shanghai, beyond the white man's banks and office buildings--description swirling with visceral eloquence, lepers with rotting fingers selling rice cakes, and powdered ladies who would turn a cat's stomach.

Pub Date: June 17th, 1963
Publisher: Simon & Schuster