The Shepherds Of Shadows

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

With the publication of his twenty-first book, THE SHEPHERDS OF SHADOWS, Harry Mark Petrakis crowns his long literary career with an illustrious achievement. A fictional treatment of the early years (1823-25) of the Greek war of independence, his latest novel succeeds on many levels, beginning with the historical. Petrakis not only brings to life in masterful, Tolstoyan fashion the battles Greece fought against Turkey in the Peloponnese, but does the same for the men who led those clashes: Ibrahim Pasha, Markos Botsaris, Theodoros Kolokotronis, Yannis Makriyannis and Lord Byron, to name but a few. Each and every one of them lives vividly on the page, with nary a whiff of pedantry in the air. The same holds true for the lesser-known people in the book: the hardy sea captain Leonidas Kontos; the compassionate village priest, Father Markos; the schoolteacher turned scribe, Xanthos; the beautiful widow Matina Vrouvas with whom Xanthos falls passionately--and dangerously--in love.
Petrakis paints a large canvas--a tapestry, really--with THE SHEPHERDS OF SHADOWS, but his brushstrokes are minute and telling. His descriptions of the battle scenes on the island of Psara and, later, at Tripolitza, are executed with breathtaking skill and power. Petrakis holds nothing back, not even when dealing with the atrocities committed by the Greeks during the course of the war.
There was brutality on both sides, the author reminds us. "Whether Greeks or Turks were victorious, the victors often massacred the defeated," he comments. "When there were no battles to be fought, robbery and murder flourished. Dead bodies became so numerous that they were left unburied to rot in the streets of towns and villages or to be eaten by bands of wild dogs that roamed the countryside. These decaying corpses produced virulent outbreaks of the plague."
Marring the Greek cause were further human failings and conflicts. Various groups and leaders claimed to represent the government of the revolution: the generals Kolokotronis and Mavromichalis; the Greek Phanariot, Mavrokordatos; a self-styled savior from eastern Greece, Theodore Negris. Then there were dozens of lesser-known but equally headstrong warlords, klephts and guerillas whose lust for power and riches was such that they fought each other more passionately than they did the Turks.
These bitter rivalries and hatreds were not new to Greece, Petrakis reminds us. They "led to the terrible twenty-seven year Peloponnesian War between the city-states of Athens and Sparta. While it ended with Sparta the apparent winner, it exhausted both states and destroyed the military and political supremacy of the Hellenes. Their influence and power passed to the Dorian kings of Macedonia, Philip II and his son Alexander, until that ambitious young king foundered in the vast recesses of the eastern lands he sought to conquer. The historian Herodotus summed up the tragic history of Greece: 'It was the custom of the gods to bring low all things of surpassing greatness.'"
How Greece managed to surmount these internal weaknesses and conflicts and ultimately triumph over her Muslim masters is what THE SHEPHERDS OF SHADOWS is all about. As Petrakis shows, the victory was won by the ordinary people of Greece, whose resolve to "live as free men and women never wavered. The mighty epics of Homer and the dramas of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, from the land battles at Marathon and Thermopylae, the great sea battle at Salamis--all depicted and honored the victory of men over tyrants, the supremacy of freedom over slavery."
(Southern Illinois Press, 800-621-2736,