Freedom or Death, Nikos Kazantzakis, Simon and Schuster, 1956, 433 pp
In his third novel, Kazantzakis turns to his birthplace. He was born in Crete in 1885 and in 1897, Greek Christians took up arms to rebel against the Turkish conquerors who had ruled Crete since the mid 1600s. This novel is the story of that rebellion. In my reading of The Life of Greece, The Story of Civilization, Volume II by Will Durant, I learned that Crete was the center of Europe's most ancient civilization: the Minoan, from which we got the legends of King Minos, the Minotaur, Daedalus and Icarus.
Reading Kazantzakis is challenging for me. In all three novels, he spends many pages introducing characters and describing the surroundings without much story going on. Because of unfamiliar names, I started a list of characters and locations. I was up to 26 found on just the first 40 pages. But what characters they are! Full of life and exhibiting all the strengths and faults of human beings, no matter which side they are on.
Once the story of the rebellion gets going, it is as gripping as any of the best historical fiction I have read. His themes of freedom, religion and the fully lived life are explored against the backdrop of the oppressions, honor and passion involved in any rebellion. And the ultimate question of whether it is better to die for freedom than to live under oppression gets told from another location in this crazy world.
(Freedom or Death is out of print. It is best found in libraries or from a used bookseller.)