Greek author’s first novel focuses on the widow’s struggle to bury Nikos Kazantzakis in Heraklion

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In world literature, Nikos Kazantzakis, the author of Zorba the Greek, is probably the most acclaimed and internationally recognized modern Greek author, but in Greece he was one of the most vilified during his lifetime.

Despite being nominated nine times for the Nobel Prize in Literature, the Greek state and the Orthodox Church have exerted strong pressure on the academy to ignore the author.

Although rumors that Mr Kazantzakis had been excommunicated were inaccurate, his widow, Eleni, had great difficulty in arranging his burial in her hometown of Heraklion in Crete.

Kazantzakis died of leukemia on October 26, 1957 in Freiburg, West Germany. After great difficulties, Ms. Kazanzakis was able to secure her burial at Martinegro Bastion, the highest point of the city’s Venetian walls, on November 5, in the presence of thousands of Cretans. Reporting on the event was one of the first assignments given to one of Greece’s most iconic journalists, Freddie Germanos.

To tie all these events together, Greek journalist Yorgos Pratanos in his debut novel, a political thriller and biopic, The Unwanted Dead – the shocking end of the heretical author of Zorba. Eleni Kazantzakis and Freddie Germanos are the main protagonists of the book published by Dioptra in Greece and internationally by the American publisher Black Rose Writing.

READ MORE: Greek Ministry of Culture proclaims 2017 ‘Year of Nikos Kazantzakis’

“Eighty percent of the book is factual. To be more precise, the “real-time” dialogues are fictitious, in addition to the dialogues of the “past”, “Pratanos said. Neos Kosmos. “The only main fictional character is Kritikaros, who has the general characteristics of the Cretan people and is a dedication to them.”

In the book, it is Kritikaros who informs the young Germanos of the events following the death of Mr. Kazantzakis and the journalist works to uncover the obstacles that stand in the way of the author’s widow who seeks the bury in his hometown.

“Despite the official propaganda against Kazantzakis, Crete has never hesitated on the issue … It was the Cretan deputies who raised their voices against the tactics of the Greek Church which wanted to ban Kazantzakis’ books,” Mr. Pratanos, born in Thessaloniki.

File image of Nikos Kazantzakis, born February 18, 1883 and died October 26, 1957.

Mr. Pratanos worked as a journalist for About Thessaloniki magazine in the early 2000s, then worked for Makedonia TV. In 2005 he moved to Athens and worked for Alter Channel and a number of Greek magazines and websites. In 2013, he was appointed deputy editor of the Greek edition of People Magazine and became its editor in 2018-19.

He said he had always been aware of important events in Mr. Kazantzakis’ life long before he started working on his novel.

“At first I wasn’t comfortable doing it (writing the book). It was not only the exposure to an unknown area (the book industry) that made me hesitate to start, but it was also the weight of the legend of the Kazantzakis. I had to not only be careful, but (also precise) and not get caught up in his legacy. “

Initially, the project was to be a script for a play, but the former director of the Greek National Theater, Sotiris Hatzakis, persuaded the journalist who had conducted more than nine months of research to write the book.

“The research results were so important and decisive for the story that I couldn’t rule them out. That’s why I incorporate them into a novel. All of the stories in the book are real and the fictional parts are used to serve the plot and the reader, ”Mr. Pratanos said.

The problem was not only the specter of the vast legacy that Mr Kazantzakis represented, it also created a link between the widow’s efforts to bury her husband and the coverage of the event by Freddie Germanos.

“I remembered that the first Germanos report was the funeral of Kazantzakis. It was after the first week of research, when I hit a dead end. I didn’t know how to link Eleni, who was in Friborg, then in Antibes (where she had lived with her husband), with the events in Athens. Freddie Germanos was a brilliant idea, because a journalist experiences events as both an outsider and an insider.

READ MORE: Greek literary figures: Nikos Kazantzakis

“My ‘Eureka’ moment came while I was lying in my bed. I immediately stood up and checked the facts and when I was right I started screaming. The dogs shared my happiness – it was five in the morning.

With the link between its protagonists established, Mr. Pratanos began to conduct more research for his book.

“The research on the specific 10 days after the author’s death began about nine months before (writing took place). I visited Heraklion and interviewed people who attended the funeral. The details of their wills have led me down paths I never imagined.

“The most intriguing interview was with the priest who conducted the funeral. He was sick but he wanted to talk about all these historical incidents that got him into trouble later.

“I still remember how moved I listened to him. He died two months after the book was published.

He was concerned about the book being published overseas (by US publisher Black Rose Writing), but his concerns were allayed by encouragement given to him by the book’s translators, Niki Starvrou. and Nicole Brison Chraniotis. .

“I was reluctant to have the novel published internationally because it is too difficult to translate from Greek – Niki and Nicole proved to me that they were the best … they managed to deliver a brilliant translation. “

The cover of The Unwanted Dead – the Shocking End of Zorba’s Heretical Author by Yorgos Pratanos published by Black Rose Writing in the United States and Dioptra Publications in Greece. Photo: Supplied

Ms. Stavrou is the step-granddaughter and goddaughter of Eleni Kazantzakis and has been in charge of the Kazantzakis estate since the death of her father, Patroklos, who was the step-son of Ms. Kazantzakis. Even more important was his support for the book.

The works of Mr. Kazantakis, in particular The Last Temptation of Christ (made in a controversial film by Martin Scorcese) have aroused the ire of religious leaders. For a time he also sympathized with the Communist experience in Russia, but he turned his back on it when Josef Stalin took power after 1925. He founded a socialist party and was briefly minister without portfolio in the ephemeral Themistoklis coalition government. Sofoulis (1945-46). He married his longtime companion Eleni Samiou in November 1945.

“Despite the efforts of neutrals and partisans to finally clear Kazantzakis’ name, parts of Greek society still regard him as their grandfathers: an atheist and a corrupter of youth,” Pratanos said. “The Greek Orthodox Church has played its part in this matter – 64 years after her death, she has never apologized for her position.

“The main reason Kazantzakis still stands today is because of his genius, his universal ideas, his honesty, his values ​​- which he never gave up. His corrupt enemies are now forgotten and dishonored.

♦ Undesirable Deaths – The Shocking End of the Heretical Author of Zorba by Yorgos Pratanos is published in Greece by Dioptra Publications, Black Rose Writing is the US publisher.

The famous inscription on the much visited tomb of Nikos Kazantzakis at Martinegro Bastion on the Venetian walls in Heraklion in Crete: “I hope for nothing, I fear nothing, I am free”. Photo: Hartmut Reihm / WikiCommons

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