Song of My Life: A Memoir

Song of My Life: A Memoir

Song of My Life: A Memoir

Song of My Life: A Memoir


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 the 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.


In the summer of 2011, for the first time in almost a year, I rode the South Shore train from my home in northwest Indiana into Chicago, a distance of about fifty miles. the downtown terminal, for years called Randolph Street, had been extensively remodeled and renamed Millennium Station.

I have traveled this same route back and forth at least several hundred times in the nearly five decades since we moved from Chicago to Indiana. On this trip into Chicago I read without paying attention to the landscape. On my return journey from Chicago, I stared out the window at neighborhoods I had often observed before. I found this journey different. in some inexplicable way I seemed to be viewing the South Side of the city for the first time.

Some of this altered perception came from obvious differences in the terrain. the South Loop, which for decades had been dotted with the bleakly identical high-rise buildings of the housing projects, had those buildings demolished and replaced by glittering glass and steel condominiums to house the gentry.

Further south, the train entood where she lived with her family. We courted along these streets for several years, strolling the grassy expanses of Jackson Park and sitting on the stone pilings of the promontory at 55th Street. As we gazed across the lake at the misted Indiana shoreline, we never imagined that the later years of our life would find us gazing from Indiana toward the skyline of Chicago.

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