The Books of Harry Mark Petrakis


Harry Mark Petrakis

November 2014
University of South Carolina Press, cloth,
ISBN 978-1-61117-502-8, $24.95
10 b&w Illustrations
216 pages, 6 x 9

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• Read a review in the Greek Star by Maria A. Karamitsos

• Read an article on Harry & the book in the
Chicago Sun-Times

• Read a review in the Chicago Sun-Times by Spencer Farnums

• Read a review on Amazon by Dr. Alex Valoulis

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An unflinchingly candid memoir from the quintessential Greek American storyteller revisiting his family, faith, home, and heritage.

With the discipline of a surgeon performing a critical operation, acclaimed storyteller Harry Mark Petrakis strips away layers of his nine decades of life to expose the blood and bone of a human being in his third memoir and twenty-fifth book, Song of My Life. Petrakis is unsparing in exposing his own flaws, from a youthful gambling addiction, to the enormous lie of his military draft, to a midlife suicidal depression. Yet he is compassionate in depicting the foibles of others around him. Petrakis writes with love about his parents and five siblings, with nostalgia as he describes the Greek neighborhoods and cramped Chicago apartments of his childhood, and with deep affection for his wife and sons as he recalls with candor, comedy, and charity a writer's long, fully-lived life.

Petrakis recounts a near-fatal childhood illness, which confined him to bed for two years and, through hours of reading during the day and night, nurtured his imagination and compulsion toward storytelling. A high school dropout, Petrakis also recalls his work journey in the steel mills, railroad depots, and shabby diners of the city. There is farce and comedy in the pages as he describes the intricate framework of lies that drove his courtship of Diana, who has been his wife of sixty-nine loving years. Petrakis shares his struggles for over a decade to write and publish and, finally, poignantly describes the matchless instant when he holds his first published book in his hands. The chapters on his experiences in Hollywood, where he had gone to write the screenplay of his best-selling novel A Dream of Kings are as revealing of the machinations and egos of moviemaking as any Oliver Stone documentary.

Petrakis's individual story, as fraught with drama and revelation as the adventures of Odysseus, comes to an elegiac conclusion when, at the age of ninety, he ruminates on his life and its approaching end. With a profound and searing honesty, this self-exploration of a solitary writer's life helps us understand our own existences and the tapestry of lives connecting us together in our shared human journey.

Praise for Song of My Life:

"The extraordinarily candid Song of My Life offers insights into the nature of an American literary life of the past five decades and it is must-reading for anyone seeking an account of the life of a legendary Greek-American writer. The memoir deals with many experiences not chronicled in Petrakis's previous autobiographical writings, among these firsts are his vivid accounts of working on television projects and Hollywood films. The style is vintage Petrakis: storytelling with a fine blend of passion, humor, and self-reflection." - Dan Georgakas, director of the Greek American Studies Project, Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, Queens College, City University of New York

"The engaging manuscript evokes the author's powerful introspection tinged with his wistful longing for a time long past. This is an intensely personal 'confessional'—a reflection of the artistic honesty which has characterized much of Harry's writing down through the years." - Richard C. Lindberg, author of Whiskey Breakfast, My Swedish Family, My American Life

"To be lost in a babble of voices is to be mute. Chicago writers—African American, Asian, Hispanic, Irish, Jewish, Polish—have set themselves to transforming a turbulent city's port of entry babble into the mnemonic clarity of beauty in story and song. That is what Harry Mark Petrakis has done for the Greek community over a lifetime of empathetically powerful stories. That vision is the gift to readers that he continues to give us all in Song of My Life." - Stuart Dybek, author of Ecstatic Cahoots: Fifty Short Stories, Paper Lantern: Love Stories, and others.

Harry Mark Petrakis is the author of twenty-two books, including A Dream of Kings, which was made into a major motion picture. He has held appointments at Ohio University as McGuffy Visiting Lecturer and at San Francisco State University as Kazantzakis Professor in Modern Greek Studies. He was twice nominated for the National Book Award in Fiction, won the O. Henry Award, and received awards from Friends of American Writers, Friends of Literature, and the Society of Midland Authors.

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