Sunday, 14 November 2010

God's Pauper. By Nikos Kazantzakis

God's Pauper
St. Francis of Assisi

Nikos Kazantzakis
Translated from the Greek by P.A. Bien

Faber and Faber, 1999; First published 1962

  From the blurb: '... an imaginative retelling of the life of St. Francis'. Wikipedia has a less imaginative brief 'history' of this saint, but even that piece gives enough indication that this was a good man out of the ordinary. Kanzantzakis' retelling makes him saint in the same mould as people like Purandara Dasa/ Manickvasagar/ Kabir/ Ramana Maharishi and many many others in many other religious traditions, perhaps ALL other religious traditions. The book is not simply hagiography - it is a sympathetic rendering of Francis' life, and Kazantzakis has obviously projected many of his own tortured questionings on to Francis. For example, Francis starts off by emphasizing poverty as the way to God, but then is told by the local Bishop that the small town of Assisi cannot support, with alms, so many of his followers. Francis then has to modify his rules somewhat to allow the brothers to work and earn enough to look after themselves. Absolute poverty then is possible only for a few - a kind of inverse Pareto effect! There are several such encounters between the flesh and the spirit, and repeatedly we are shown that  a life of purely the spirit is not possible or even desirable for all. As a counterpoint, almost, Kazantzakis makes the narrator one Frate Leone (Brother Leo) who clearly loves Francis and respects him immensely but cannot understand all that he does, and cannot of course offer that kind of renunciation himself. The book is lovely to read. It could potentially make  profound impact, but in an understated, natural kind of way that cannot easily be intellectualized. It's effects, if any, on my thinking (and feeling) will be known only later - or not at all. Anyway I want to read other books by Kazantzakis, but not just yet. 

 A quote: Once he said to me 'As long as there are flowers and children and birds in the world, have no fears, Brother Leo; everything will be fine'.  (Page 191)

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