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Twilight of the Ice

Harry Mark Petrakis

May 2003
paper, 0-8093-2506-3, $15.95
cloth, 0-8093-2514-4, $25.00
160 pages, 5 x 8

Read the author interview in Poets & Writers or New City.

Read an excerpt below

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From acclaimed storyteller, Harry Mark Petrakis, Twilight of the Ice is a dramatic tale of revelation and redemption set against the backfrop of the 1950's Chicago railroad yards.

Praise for Twilight of the Ice:

“Twilight of the Ice is a powerful book, a dazzling creation, filled finally with grace. Grace everywhere.”
—Father Andrew Greeley

“Distinguished Chicago novelist Harry Mark Petrakis is still going strong. His ninth novel and eighteenth book, Twilight of the Ice, is full of the brawny, brightly drawn ethnic characters that brought him international fame for Pericles on 31st Street (1965) and A Dream of Kings (1966), both National Book Award finalists. . . .With his rugged realist's eye, Petrakis captures a colorful period and place once well known to Chicagoans but now almost forgotten.”
—Chicago Sun-Times

“[A] revealing tale about a time in Chicago, the early 1950s, when the railroad-car ice industry faced competition from new, refrigerated rail cars. . . . Throughout the story, Chicago readers will encounter streets and neighborhoods they recognize. Characters cross Roosevelt Road or turn onto Maxwell Street. But they do not shop in upscale stores. In Petrakis' novel, this is a city of ethnic groceries and local restaurants—and now-long-gone icemen.”
—Chicago Tribune

“In this short work, Petrakis creates many strong characters while deftly exploring multiple themes such as ethnic conflict, generational differences, family difficulties, and the battle with addiction in what would take other writers three times the space. Highly recommended.”
—Library Journal

“Not only does veteran novelist Petrakis take the reader back to Chicago circa 1950, when muscled, unexpectedly graceful, and stout-hearted 'icemen' risked limb and life to pack railroad cars with ice to keep produce fresh, he also peels back fiction to its essentials, building brick-solid prose out of realistic and humble details.”

The newest novel from acclaimed storyteller Harry Mark Petrakis, Twilight of the Ice is a dramatic tale of revelation and redemption set against the backdrop of the 1950s Chicago rail yards. In a classic yarn expertly balancing the realistic with the mythic, Petrakis chronicles the life of Mike Zervakis, a Greek immigrant and the last in the line of the strong, skilled railroad car icemen, in a profession becoming obsolete with the advent of modern refrigeration.

After fleeing from the despotic Turkish occupation of his homeland of Crete, and then escaping from boyhood servitude in his uncle’s shabby Chicago lunchroom, Mike at last finds his calling in the craft of the ice at the Team Track, the desolate ice depot in the heart of industrial Chicago. Here, under the oppressive rule of brutal foreman Earl, and bolstered by the camaraderie of alcoholic former schoolteacher Rafer Martin, Mike carves out his fate.

Mike’s icing world is populated by a rough crew of old-timers and rookies, including the stoic Polish icemen Budny and Orchowski, the buoyant and reckless Noodles, the brooding war veteran Stamps, and Mike’s young helper and surrogate son, Mendoza. This harsh world is also home to Mike’s beloved, the prostitute Reba; Rafer’s temptation incarnate, the fragile Leota; and the old iceman-turned-preacher, Israel, a man plagued with apocalyptic visions of a second ice age in which mankind’s salvation would depend upon the chosen icemen.

Beset by age and a failing body, Mike yearns to find his heir, someone to whom he can pass his skill and his devotion to the craft. After finding only cold indifference among the young summer workers, he finally is introduced to the powerful young giant, S.K., a born iceman. But when S.K. carelessly causes the death of an icing veteran, old hatreds surface and Mike’s dream of a successor seems doomed. All that remains for the master iceman is a final savage struggle against his exacting taskmaster, Earl, and an even more relentless foe, the twilight of his own life.

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.

An Excerpt from Twilight of the Ice

“I had a dream about you last night, Mike,” Israel said. “I was holding a revival at the mission and you were seated in the congregation. When I called witnesses for Jesus, you were the first man to step forward.” He sighed. “God be praised, it was a glorious moment.”

“Now, Israel, you know I’m not the kind to jump up like some holy roller and claim I found religion,” Mike said. “I think sometimes you get so carried away by the power of your preaching, you mix me up with another iceman.”

“Even in a dream I’d know your rocky, weather-battered head,” Israel said. “It was you! Pacheco and Abrogano were there too.”

“Most preachers would be satisfied, Israel, preaching to the living,” Mike said. “You got to bring the dead back into your congregation, as well.”

“That was the beauty of the revelation!” Israel exclaimed. “Two dead icemen returned from purgatory to witness a prodigal find Jesus! It was a miracle!”

“I admire your faith, Israel,” Mike said, “and I know you’re a powerful dreamer. But I got to walk my own road.”

“Walk with Jesus and the road won’t be as hard!” Israel said fervently. “I’ve told you many times before, he’ll help you fathom your place in the crusade of the ice.”

“And I’ve told you before, I don’t know what icing has to do with a crusade,” Mike said genially. “Icing is loading the trucks, hauling it to the trains, filling the bunkers with ice quickly, and doing it right. You iced enough to understand that.”

“The icing is the crusade! You’re the only icemaster left now, Mike, the last champion. Before you put down your pick and tongs, you’ve got to find someone strong and talented you can teach your craft, someone to carry on the icing after you’re gone!”

(p. 12–13)

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