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Sunday February 26, 2017
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Harry Mark Petrakis

 

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In Petrakis's most recent novel, The Orchards of Ithaca, Greektown has become more important than Greece, the community in Chicago more important than the country of origin, now a seldom visited symbol of the language and the religion. Orestes Panos, the protagonist of the novel, is co-owner of one of the better Greek restaurants on Halsted Street. He has just turned fifty, and he is finding pornography on the web an easier companion than Despina, his wife of twenty-three years. His daughter is going out with tattooed young men, non-Greeks, and she has just had her belly marred with the image of a moth. His son plans to leave his young wife and infant daughter and hit the road in an attempt to find himself. Orestes's mother-in-law seems to despise him, either because he never became a doctor or because he can't live up to the high standard presented by actor Tom Selleck (whose photograph she wants buried with her). It is late 1999 in the book. Orestes dreams that he can save Bill Clinton from his presidential peccadilloes. A devout young priest has been accused of fondling the teenagers at church. Y2K is promising the meltdown of the infrastructure. And on top of all of this, a beautiful young blond woman Orestes meets in the library has decided that he is the reincarnation of Dante and she of Beatrice. It is almost more than Orestes can bear!

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