Chesterton Tribune

'The Orchards of Ithaca' newest novel by Harry Mark Petrakis

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Experienced from the engaging street-level vantage points of a contemporary Chicago family, the movement of transition between epochs is central to “The Orchards of Ithaca,” the tenth novel (and twentieth book) from celebrated Greek American storyteller Harry Mark Petrakis, of Dune Acres, a two-time finalist for the National Book Award in fiction. Returning to the comic tones of his earlier work, Petrakis mixes naturalism with wit and revelation in a tale of secrets, salvation, mythos and the millennium.

In dreams, Orestes Panos is a valiant champion locked in a epic struggle to save the Clinton White House from scandal; in his waking hours, his invalid mother-in-law belittles him for being less a man than Tom Selleck. On the even of the millennium - as Oval Office infidelities, the casualties of Columbine and Y2K grip the attention of a nation - this 50-year-old restaurateur faces the more personal trials of his infatuation with a flaxen-haired, nine-fingered temptress, his public defense of a young cleric falsely accused of child molestation and his crisis of commitment when long-buried family secrets resurface. For Orestes and the globe, the cusp of 1999 brings with it reminders of the unresolved sins of the past and ongoing strife of the present, but also a promise for an untainted future yet to be won.

“The Orchards of Ithaca” (280 pages, $25 cloth, 19 Aug. 2004) follows the private and public lives of a prosperous family in Chicago’s Greek Town as they confront the challenges that define their future. Orestes is still beleaguered by the traumas and obsessions of his youth and yearns for a life lived as heroically as that of his namesake. Sexually frustrated and emotionally stunted, he has yet to fully accept the responsibilities of adulthood. Dessie, his wife of 23 seemingly happy years, harbors a stark secret about the true origins of their wedlock and firstborn. That son, Paulie, is now a young man with dilemmas of his own after impregnating a Mafioso’s daughter. Oblivious to the adult burdens of the household is Marika, the trendy teenage daughter content to follow fads with credit card in hand. And both amid and aloof from the family is Dessie’s mother, Stavroula, a bitter and sickly old harpy who openly berates her son-in-law for lacking the machismo of her beloved screen idol.

As the Panoses stumble awkwardly toward the millennium, the heartaches and subterfuges of their past gain ground. When family tragedy sparks confession at long last, Orestes and Dessie are forced to decide the fate of their sacred union - and, indeed, of their family - in a moment of perfect honesty shared together on new Year’s Eve.

Petrakis is a longtime Chicago resident and the son of a Greek Orthodox priest. His most widely acclaimed novel, “A Dream of Kings,” was made into a major motion picture, starring Anthony Quinn. His most recent tale, “Twilight of the Ice,” is also available from Southern Illinois University Press.

Petrakis will sign copies of “The Orchards of Ithaca” at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 26 at Barbara’s Bookstore, 1218 S. Halsted St., Chicago.


Posted 8/12/2004