Harry Mark Petrakis, one of the Greek-American community’s greatest and most beloved authors, passed away at the age of 97 on Feb. 2 at his longtime home near Chesterton, Indiana.
He was best known for depicting the life of Greek-American immigrants in the Greektown neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois.
Petrakis was the author of 24 books, mainly fiction, and many short stories.
Archbishop Elpidophoros described Petrakis as a literary giant of the Greek Diaspora in the US. His work, he said, “will endure for generations to come.”
The passing this week of Harry Mark Petrakis, a literary giant of the Omogeneia and a loving scribe of the Greek-American experience, is a profound loss to our community and to the world. But his work will endure for generations to come, even as his memory will be eternal! pic.twitter.com/4rLa5xSYLK
— Elpidophoros (@Elpidophoros) February 4, 2021
He was born in June 1923, the son of the Reverend Mark Petrakis, a Greek Orthodox priest who immigrated to the United States with his wife Stella in 1916.
They were villagers from the town of Vilandredon in central Crete.
Harry Mark (his Greek name was “Haralambos”) attended Koraes School, the elementary school of Sts. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church, his father’s parish in Chicago.
During Greek school days he recited his original poems and played the lead roles in class productions of Greek tragedies.
He also learned to read the Greek language, which he spoke at home (although he never wrote in Greek).
He also met his future wife in Greek school, a Greek-American girl named Diana Perparos, whose father John owned several dry cleaning and shoe repair stores in Chicago.
A Dream of Kings
In 1966 Petrakis made his first international success with the appearance of his novel A Dream of Kings, which won him a nomination for the National Book Award for Fiction for the second year in a row.
A Dream of Kings was on the New York Times Best Seller list for 12 weeks, translated into 12 languages, and made into a Hollywood film of the same name.
The lead role of Leonidas Matsoukas was played by actor Anthony Quinn, already familiar to Americans from having played Zorba in the earlier film Zorba the Greek.
Quinn’s characterization of Matsoukas as a passionate Greek immigrant full of lust for life was so like Zorba that he was termed by one critic “Zorba the Greek-American.”
There then followed a period at the publishing house of Doubleday, which published four of Petrakis’ books between 1976 and 1983. All four had Greek themes.
The Hour of the Bell is set during the Greek War of Independence (1821-1932), in which patriotic Greek forces expelled the ruling Turks who had been there since the fall of Greece to the Ottoman Empire in the year 1453.
In the 2000s Petrakis began writing for Southern Illinois University Press.
They published his Twilight of the Ice, about the days when Americans still had ice delivered to the iceboxes in their homes; The Orchards of Ithaca, in which a Greek restaurateur comes to the defense of a Greek Orthodox priest falsely accused of child molestation; The Shepherds of Shadows, a sequel to The Hour of the Bell; and Legends of Glory and other stories, a collection of short stories centering on Chicago Greeks.
His final short story anthology was Cavafy’s Stone and other village tales (Wicker Park Press, 2010), all of whose stories take place in the same fictional village in Greece. As of 2015, Petrakis was still producing work regularly.
His final book was a full-length autobiography, Song of My Life.
(with information from Wikipedia)