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ITHAKA ON THE HORIZON: A Greek-American Journey



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31 March 2007



I recently caught the second half of a serious and well-made documentary called ‘The Journey: the Greek American Dream’
about the history and experiences of Greek immigrants in America. Many prominent Greek Americans are interviewed in the film, including Olga Broumas, Paul Sarbanes, George Pelecanos (Stavros, you could very well be a character in a Pelecanos novel) and Dan Georgakas.
Prof. Georgakas is a renowned film critic and chronicler of Greek America and the American labour movement. His recent book, ‘My Detroit, Growing Up Greek and American in Motor City’ (available from Amazon) looks good, as was his review of ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’, which can be accessed here

(Georgakas dislikes MBFGW, describes it as 50 years out of date and utterly banal). In his article on MBFGW, Georgakas reviews the presence of Greeks in American film, but doesn’t mention his favourite Greek American film, ‘Dark Odyssey’, which he writes about here:

I haven’t seen ‘Dark Odyssey’, but it looks interesting and can be bought here on VHS
or from Amazon on DVD.



Thanks for the links. I promise I will check them out soon. It all sounds interesting.

As for Pelicanos, I am ashamed to say that I don't know much about him but I intend to find out more, even read one of his novels. As for his characters, they sound like tough guys. I'm relatively harmless.

Did you see the film "Eternity and a Day?"


I have seen Eternity and a Day. I thought it was terrific. Angelopoulos’ best film since Voyage to Kythera.

Pelecanos’s heroes are only tough when they need to be, for the purposes of self-preservation or in the pursuit of justice, never for the sake of it.

His protagonists are usually guys with high ideals and moral standards trying to apply them (to paraphrase what you say in your latest post) in a world that detests these ideals and morals, a ‘fallen’ world, whose corruption has also seeped into his protagonists’ being and become an integral part of them. It’s never true to say that the ‘body’ has been polluted while the ‘soul’ has remained pure or the outer world false and the inner world authentic.

Pelecanos’s protagonists seek redemption not through prayer or the church but through action, though engagement with ‘real’ life. Not that his heroes aren’t reflective; it’s just that this reflection, this self-doubt and sense of isolation, is worked out in a social context – which is, after all, the American way. American ideology doesn’t really have time for monks, hermits or intellectuals, does it? It expects people to live their lives entrenched in society, don’t you think?

Anyway, these things are going on in Pelecanos’s crime novels – at least the six or seven with Greek protagonists and to do with Greek America that I’ve read – and, if I may say so, are going on in you too, in all of us to a greater or lesser extent.



I think I like this guy Pelicanos. Can you recommend which book I should read first?

Most Orthodox Christians do not "disengage" from the world. They struggle within it. Monasticism on the other hand, seeks Theosis by withdrawing from the world thus removing its distractions and concentrating on those things that make us God-like. Ask any monk or nun and they will tell you that those in the world have an infinitely more difficult job in living an Orthodox life.

I suggest reading Dr. Constantine Cavarnos essay:

I agree that America/Western ideology is far removed from these concepts:


I like the Cavarnos essay. I have a book by him somewhere, called, if I remember rightly, Modern Greek Thought. That Herman of Alaska is an interesting character.
As for Pelecanos, the books I know are the Nick Stefanos trilogy – A Firing Offence, Nick’s Trip, Down by the River Where the Dead Men Go; and the Dimitri Karras trilogy – King Suckerman, The Sweet Forever and Shame the Devil. The Big Blowdown is a kind of prequel to the Dimitri Karras trilogy, featuring Pete Karras, Dimitri’s uncle/father/grandfather – I don’t remember which – and is set among Greek immigrants in Washington DC in the 1930s and 1940s.
My own personal favourite is Nick’s Trip; but I reckon you might want to try The Big Blowdown first, because Pete’s natural heroism is what Dimitri and Nick try to emulate in their very flawed ways later on. Also, if you don’t like The Big Blowdown, then you probably won’t like any of the others.
Shoedog lacks the interesting socio-political detail of the above books but is still not bad; Shoedog is about an ex-Marine with no purpose in life, who tries to turn his life round but makes the wrong decision.


Ascetism has been a part of Greek culture at least back to 600 BCE or 600 years before the birth of the Rabbi most Greeks worship today. The Pythagoreans or Orphics were the earliest reported ascetic communities. Later in Roman dominated Hellas ascetic communities were spread across the Greek world. Read Appolonius of Tyana or Porphyry for accounts of ascetic communities following our native Hellenic religion. Like in most things the Christians appropriated large elements of Hellenic culture.



Thanks again for the recommendations. I will take your advice and begin with "The Big Blowdown." although frankly "Shoedog" sounds almost autobiographical. BTW, I am cranking up my souvla and getting it ready for Pascha.


Those Greek Christians knew a good thing when they saw it in more ways than one. The Hellenization of Christianity was integral to its success.

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  • Keep Ithaka always in your mind. Arriving there is what you're destined for. But don't hurry the journey at all. Better if it lasts for years, so you're old by the time you reach the island, wealthy with all you've gained on the way, not expecting Ithaka to make you rich. Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey. Without her you wouldn't have set out. She has nothing left to give you now. And if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you. Wise as you will have become, so full of experience, you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean. C. P. Cavafy


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