Twilight of the Ice

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9780809325061: Twilight of the Ice

The newest novel from acclaimed storyteller Harry Mark Petrakis, Twilight of the Ice is a dramatic tale of revelation and redemption set against the backdrop of the 1950s Chicago rail yards. In a classic yarn expertly balancing the realistic with the mythic, Petrakis chronicles the life of Mike Zervakis, a Greek immigrant and the last in the line of the strong, skilled railroad car icemen, in a profession becoming obsolete with the advent of modern refrigeration.  

 

After fleeing from the despotic Turkish occupation of his homeland of Crete, and then escaping from boyhood servitude in his uncle’s shabby Chicago lunchroom, Mike at last finds his calling in the craft of the ice at the Team Track, the desolate ice depot in the heart of industrial Chicago. Here, under the oppressive rule of brutal foreman Earl, and bolstered by the camaraderie of alcoholic former schoolteacher Rafer Martin, Mike carves out his fate. 

 

Mike’s icing world is populated by a rough crew of old-timers and rookies, including the stoic Polish icemen Budny and Orchowski, the buoyant and reckless Noodles, the brooding war veteran Stamps, and Mike’s young helper and surrogate son, Mendoza. This harsh world is also home to Mike’s beloved, the prostitute Reba; Rafer’s temptation incarnate, the fragile Leota; and the old iceman-turned-preacher, Israel, a man plagued with apocalyptic visions of a second ice age in which mankind’s salvation would depend upon the chosen icemen.  

 

Beset by age and a failing body, Mike yearns to find his heir, someone to whom he can pass his skill and his devotion to the craft. After finding only cold indifference among the young summer workers, he finally is introduced to the powerful young giant, S.K., a born iceman. But when S.K. carelessly causes the death of an icing veteran, old hatreds surface and Mike’s dream of a successor seems doomed. All that remains for the master iceman is a final savage struggle against his exacting taskmaster, Earl, and an even more relentless foe, the twilight of his own life.

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About the Author:

A longtime Chicago resident and the son of a Greek Orthodox priest, Harry Mark Petrakis is the author of sixteen books, including novels, short story collections, memoirs, and collections of essays. Two of his books were finalists for the National Book Award in Fiction. His novel, A Dream of Kings, was made into a major motion picture starring Anthony Quinn. He holds a number of honorary degrees and, in addition to his writing, has lectured extensively as a storyteller at various academic institutions, including Ohio University where he was McGuffy Visiting Lecturer and San Francisco State University where he was Kazantzakis Professor in Modern Greek Studies.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

"I’ll never be as good as you," [Suleiman] shrugged. "Maybe I can do the things you do, but you got something I don’t have. Not that I give a damn. Like I told you before, if I got to name ten things I want to do, icing wouldn’t be at the top of that list."

"Is it still at the bottom?"

"You’re one Greek bulldog," he said. "You just don’t give up, do you? Well maybe it’s not at the bottom. I got days heaving ice when the workflows through me like a strong drink. But I got to tell you, it’s still number one."

"Things can change!" Mike said earnestly. "If you didn’t have the heart for it, you couldn’t do it so well!" He paused. "There ‘s something else I been waiting to tell you . . . all that stuff I said about Turks . . . well, you’ve changed my mind. I mean, I’m a Greek and you’re a Turk, but that doesn’t matter anymore."

From the yards below the Team Track, train bells rang noisily across the twilight. Above them, a crescent of new moon became visible in the darkening sky. Mike waited tensely for Suleiman to respond.

"I’ve felt about Greeks the way you felt about Turks." Suleiman said, his voice suddenly grave. "But you’re not only one tough little Greek, tough as anyone I’ve ever met, you’re a champion at what you do. I’ve watched you work, and you’re a champion."

Mike was moved by Suleiman’s words.

"You could be a champion too!" Mike cried. "I tell you, Suleiman, you’ve got the stuff! I’ve been icing for a hell of a long time and I know!"

"I’m not an iceman."

"The hell you’re not!"

"I don’t want to be a damn iceman!"

"I’m telling you, you’re a born iceman!"

Suleiman was silent for another moment, and then he shook his head.

"You’re really a piece of work," he said. "I got to say I’ve never run into anyone like you, Greek or anything else." He paused. "Maybe if I’d come to the Team Track a few years ago, before a lot of this stuff happened—" He shrugged. "It’s too late now."

"Maybe it isn’t too late," Mike said urgently. "I got to tell you, no matter how many times you turn me down, well I’m going to keep trying. You got the makings of a champion too, a skill you can pass on. . . ." He paused. "Maybe to other Greeks or Turks who come to work at the Team Track."

Suleiman laughed.

"You and I might be the last Greek and Turk to ever step foot in the Team Track."

They started walking slowly through the falling darkness to their cars.

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