Captain Michales

Freedom and Death by Nikos Kazantzakis: A Book Review

Captain Michales is a wild man. His own family calls him the Wild Boar; and when he invites his companions to one of his drinking bouts – which often last for days – not only they dare not to say no, they dare not to stop drinking either, not even if it makes them miserably sick.

Even so, Captain Michales is no wilder than his country, Crete.

The cover of the 2nd Greek edition in 1955 illustrates the spirit of Captain Michales and the book perfectly [Image via Wikipedia}
Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel, Freedom and Death, is set at the end of 19th century when Crete was still a – reluctant – part of the Ottoman Empire. The island saw  a series of rebellions against Turkish rule throughout the 19th century before eventually it became independent and finally united with Greece in the 20th.

Kazantzakis himself was born in Megalokastro (today’s Heraklion) in 1883 and in his autobiographical book, Report to Greco, he hinted that the figure of Captain Michales was inspired by his own father: in the novel he’s describing the world that he grew up in.

A harsh and chaotic world.

Relations between the two groups of inhabitants of the island, the Greeks and Turks, are turbulent to say the least: ethnically motivated murder is a daily occurrence, family vendettas drag out for decades and law is practically non-existent. This forms the background of the novel, which is a story of friendship, jealousy, murder and vengeance, embedded in the larger story of the fight for Cretan independence.

The hero, Captain Michales, is a larger than life figure from the town of Megalokastro. The other chief characters are his Turkish blood brother and at the same time enemy, Nuri Bey; Nuri’s wife Eminé, who strikes passion in more than one man’s heart; Captain Michalis’s extended family, his rivals, his friends and neighbours in Megalokastro; not to mention the Pacha in charge of the island and the spiritual leader of the Christians, the Metropolitan.

In addition to the actual plot line, the novel is like a caleidoscope of colour about life in Megalokastro in that particular moment, strongly emanating the atmosphere of the time and place – for Kazantzakis writing it must have been like reliving his childhood.

It is a memorable book, but brutal: brutal like the hero, and brutal like the times and the country in which he lived. Not for the faint hearted.

Captain Michales stretched out his hand and raised the severed head by the hair like a banner. A wild light haloed his face, which was filled with an inhuman joy. Was it pride, god-like defiance, or contempt of death? Or limitless love for Crete? Captain Michales roared:

“Freedom or…”

Death.

Lockdown Diaries: Day 62 (LOTR New Zealand)

Virtual Escape: LOTR New Zealand

We’ll keep it simple today. Have you read The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien?

In case you haven’t, have you seen the films? Right.

(If you’ve done neither, get the book, now!)

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Lockdown Diaries: Day 60 (Running Away to Sea)

Virtual Escape: Running Away to Sea

It’s such a beautiful day today where I am – blue skies, glorious sunshine… we’re only missing the sea, the sand and the palm trees to make everything perfect.

So I thought today we’re escaping to the sea with a few books…  The first of which absolutely has to be:

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Lockdown Diaries: Day 39 (Lassie Come-Home)

Locked Down in London, Day 39: Self-Isolation

If your kids are anything like mine, they’re spending the entire lockdown in self-isolation – absolutely voluntarily. Which is what their normally do anyway, whenever they’re home: ensconce themselves in their bedrooms, facetiming their friends/boyfriend (as the case might be), all – the – bloody – time.

They only come out to eat! 🙂

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Lockdown Diaries: Day 29 (Books That Make You Look Good When Dead?)

Locked Down in London, Day 29: Too Many Books?

A few years ago we had to have some repairs done to our roof and for a few days we had a workman in. On the last day he finished work early and had to wait for a colleague to pick him up with the company van. We sat him down in the living room with a cup of tea, and he looked at the bookshelves and asked: “How many books do you have?”

Well, truth be told, I don’t know. Mostly I feel that not enough. At some point however we did try to catalogue them by using a scanning program and although we never finished and keep forgetting scanning new books in, I was able to make an educated guess.

“About three thousand,” I said.

His jaw dropped. “Three thousand! And did you read them all?”

That made my jaw drop. “Well, of course…” I have read a lot more than 3000 books in my life, actually. The ones on the bookshelves – those are just my favourites.

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Lockdown Diaries: Day 25 (In Space)

Locked Down in London, Day 25: ISS

Sometimes when the weather is nice and the night is clear, I check when the ISS is  due to pass overhead at a reasonable hour and then sit in the garden waiting to spot it. And I think of the people aboard, and of space, and of science and adventure; and I nightdream of a future when mankind will, somehow, crack the secret of travelling faster than light or through wormholes, or what-do-I-care, as long as they will be able to get to the centre of our galaxy and even to far away galaxies and live on other planets.

The ISS is not passing anywhere near me for a while (you’re in luck in North America around the US-Canadian border and in Australia and New-Zealand) but the reason why I mention them is because since this whole lockdown madness started, several of the astronauts on board talked about how they cope with their isolation and being locked into a small space.

So imagine yourselves on board of the ISS, people!

Jessica Meir using a laptop on the International Space Station [Photo courtesy of NASA]
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Lockdown Diaries: Day 24 (The Games People Play)

Locked Down in London, Day 24: Dungeons & Dragons

Last week in Lancashire we found Mr Anglo-Saxonist’s old (Advanced) Dungeons & Dragons books and set of dice in his late parents’ garage. Thank you to the lockdown, today we gave it a go.

D&D dice [Image by Diacritica via Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0]
For those of you who don’t know, Dungeons & Dragons is an old role-playing game from the 1970s. I’ve never played it before, and well, what can I say? Setting up the characters alone took a couple of hours… and on our first encountering a new character in a pub, we didn’t know what to do next, until I had the happy notion to invite him for a beer! It seems an incredibly complex game, not helped by the fact that Mr Anglo-Saxonist, who is acting Dungeon Master (a sort of game master and umpire), can no longer remember the rules or even understand the abbreviations in the rule books… But we did kill 3 hours this afternoon, and although it gave him a headache, the rest of us were reasonably entertained. As this is a game that apparently just goes on and on, we’re taken care of for another few weeks of lockdown at least?

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Lockdown Diaries: Day 23 (Christ Recrucified)

Locked Down in London, Day 23: The Police Is Losing the Plot

Earlier in the week, the Northamptonshire chief constable threatened to send his policemen to check on shoppers’ baskets and trolleys because in his opinion going out to buy chocolate Easter eggs is not essential!

What about buying the dye for the boiled eggs?! 🙂

Photo by Boris Manev on Pexels.com

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Lockdown Diaries: Day 11 (A Martian’s Guide to Budapest)

Locked Down in London, Day 11: Hungary Loses the Plot

While here all I have to moan about is the Derbyshire police’s dislike of people in scenic spots, in Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, better known by the ordinary citizen as Viktátor, or sometimes as King Viktor, has decided that he can’t have too much emergency powers and he can’t have it too long: he’s pushing through a new bill on the extension of the already existing emergency powers – without a sunset clause.

Meanwhile Hungary’s Chief Medical Officer for Public Health advocates that people soak eggs in bleach before eating them (!) – it’s lucky that apparently you can’t get bleach at the moment.

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Lockdown Diaries: Day 9 (The Land of the North-West Wind)

Locked Down in London, Day 9:

Braving the freezing wind and the sudden scattering of hail, gone for a walk with Young Friend of the Elephants. To celebrate the Sunday, we walked to our local beauty spot, from where you can get great views of the centre of London in the distance. It was cordoned off. Why, I’m not sure, because it’s such a spacious area that it was never crowded even in the best of weather. The walk that was meant to raise spirits merely succeeded to reinforce my sense of loss: we can’t even enjoy the views now.

How I miss the great outdoors!

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Lockdown Diaries: Day 7 (Dead London)

Locked Down in London, Day 7: The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker…

The online delivery services now appear to be completely collapsing and there are long – socially distanced – queues outside the supermarkets. But our local tradesmen are bearing up heroically – the little corner shops are full of fresh fruit and vegetables, while our local butcher happily supplied us with 2 pounds of Cote de Boeuf for our Sunday roast after our online shop failed to deliver the topside… (And well he might have been happy, given what Cote de Boeuf costs!)

In any case: we’re having our traditional roast beef and Yorkshire pudding on Sunday.

Our family 1 – Coronavirus 0.

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Lockdown Diaries: Day 3 (A Walk in Madeira)

Locked down in London: Day 3

Today the health service sent me a text message, saying that as I’m one of the 1.5 million people in Britain who are at high-risk from the coronavirus, I should stay at home for a minimum of 12 weeks, keeping at least 3 steps distance from my husband and daughters at all times. (Where do they think my husband will sleep? In the doghouse?)

I know the health service means well but the text freaked me out. Do they really think I will lock myself into our bedroom (thank you for allowing me to open the window, by the way) and won’t hug and kiss my family for 12 weeks (minimum)? Frankly, I’d sooner die of the coronavirus.

So, a big breath… rant over. Let’s try to hold it together – by going for a walk in Madeira!

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Give a Quarter of a Year to the Mixture and Beat it Until it Cheers Up

No, I haven’t gone insane (yet) due to having to stay at home: the above gem in the title comes from Google Translate. It’s a paragraph from a tarta di Santiago recipe, which I was sharing with family & friends on Facebook, as part of my Lockdown Diaries. (I have to post bilingual on Facebook for everybody to be able to understand and I was too lazy to translate an entire recipe. 🙂 )  

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The Wave (The Anatomy of Mass Hysteria)

A history teacher in a Californian high school finds himself unable to answer the question as to how the German population could allow the holocaust to happen. He decides to start an experiment in class… which quickly spirals out of control.

This is the premise of The Wave, a young adult novel by Morton Rhue which I found abandoned on the coffee table in the living room one evening earlier this week – Young Friend of the Elephants has this annoying habit of abandoning her books and empty tea mugs on the coffee table when she evacuates the sofa. On being questioned about it, YFE, currently aged 14, commented that the story was good but that the quality of the writing would make a moron weep; a summary with which I fully concur after reading it. (But that’s ‘young adult’ for you – it’s too moronic even for a young adult.) 

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Quarantine in the Grand Hotel

A luxury hotel on a holiday island has been placed under quarantine after a case of an infectious disease was reported to the authorities by the management. The police cordoned off the building and its gardens, quarantining not only the hotel guests, but the staff on the premises, and various diverse characters who, for their misfortune, happened to be present – from the stern-faced missionary who stopped for lunch in this palace of sin to the souvenir seller and the unemployed dockyard worker busy loafing around in front of the hotel entrance, not to mention Miss Lydia who received the deportation order this morning after she spent two years on the island with the excuse that she was waiting for the return of an officer of the merchant marine, who had stepped outside for a few minutes…

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Hungary in Ten Books

In a few hours time I’ll be taking a late night flight to Budapest; by the time you’re reading this I might have even arrived. This latest visit home prompted me to write a long overdue book list for you. 🙂

The Széchenyi Chain Bridge in Budapest in winter fog. Photo by Noval Goya via Flickr.

One good way to get to know a people is by reading their literature.  Unfortunately, in the case of the Hungarians this is not easy as the language is obscure and difficult (and no, it’s bloody not related to Polish, or Russian, or German!¹) and not a lot of the country’s literature has been translated into English, let alone into other languages.

So what follows here is not any kind of representative list of Hungarian literature – it is, nevertheless, a list of ten good books which were all translated into English. If you ever decide to visit Hungary, you could do much worse than reading one of them on the flight there. 🙂

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Nine Books to Get Your Kids Off the Sofa

It’s a dark and stormy night… no, actually, it’s just a dark and miserably wet January afternoon. It’s that time of the year when hardly anybody can be bothered to get off the sofa; the new year’s resolution crowd has already disappeared from the gym. The same is true for our children, who are far too addicted to their electronic gadgets anyway and would do well to spend more time outdoors.

So perhaps this a good time to offer them a good book in exchange for those gadgets; and why not make it a book that will encourage them out of doors? By the time they finish reading, spring will be just round the corner.

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Twelve Books in Twelve Months (2019)

About a year ago I looked back at 2018, admitted it had been a real struggle to keep the blog going and hoped for things to go better in 2019. Well, I can tell you this: they didn’t (if you didn’t work this out already for yourselves by the scarcity of the posts). What can I say? May 2020 be better than 2019 and may I write some good posts this year! 🙂

But while you’re waiting for those posts, let’s have a quick review at some of the books of 2019: books you might enjoy – or you’ll want to avoid! 🙂

By the way, if you ever want to know what I’m reading, you can always take a look at the Reading Log (which I do try to keep reasonably up-to-date).

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