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In the Land of Morning

In the Land of Morning

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In the Land of Morning

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Oct 29, 2011


From the ageless elements of great drama — love and hate, fear and hope, war and retribution — Harry Mark Petrakis, twice nominated for the National Book Awards fiction prize, has spun a modern classic, a novel to stir the senses and to warm the heart.

In the Land of Morning is woven of many threads, chief among them love. The story centers around two love affairs, one youthful and poetic, the other a seething, sensual, mature love that grows to be all-consuming — invulnerable to all but violence.

It is the story, too, of a strange, driven family, seen in a new and mature light by the son newly returned from Vietnam, weary of killing and of death — but finding he has not left these completely behind him. Confrontation and the haunted past lurk to threaten him at home.

The web into which he is drawn expands to include a wide canvas of unforgettable characters, magnificently drawn, each catapulting toward a dramatic destiny. But along with the tragedy and treachery and cruelty there is also laughter and compassion — and the pervasiveness of love.

Oct 29, 2011

Sobre el autor

Harry Mark Petrakis published his first story, “Pericles on 31st Street” in the Atlantic Monthly in 1957. Since then he has written twenty-five books of fiction, essays, and memoirs, and he has twice been nominated for the National Book Award in fiction. Petrakis has been honored with the O. Henry Award, the Chicago Public Library’s Carl Sandburg Award, and awards from the Friends of American Writers, Friends of Literature, and the Society of Midland Authors. Petrakis has adapted his stories and novels for film and television and has lectured on storytelling before colleges and clubs across the United States. He and his wife, Diana, have three sons and four grandchildren.

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In the Land of Morning - Harry Mark Petrakis


A Novel



Copyright 1973 by Harry Mark Petrakis

All rights reserved

Smashwords Edition

Originally published by


New York City, NY


For my sisters and my brothers, for their husbands and their wives.


Praise for Harry Mark Petrakis...

In his tales, violence is measured by brotherhood, passionate hate by passionate love. And in the end it is man who, despite his weaknesses and his blindness, has the right to victory.

- Elie Weisel

I've often thought what a wonderful basketball team could be formed from Petrakis characters. Everyone of them is at least fourteen feet tall.

- Kurt Vonnegut

Harry Mark Petrakis is good news in American literature.

- Issac Bashevis Singer

I've always thought Harry Mark Petrakis to be a leading American novelist.

- John Cheever

Joy. A strange word when you think of contemporary fiction... or contemporary poetry, or contemporary anything. I am tempted to say that Petrakis is unique in our time because in his stories he can produce it, and he does regularly. It is as if some wonderful secret had been lost, then rediscovered by him.

- Mark Van Doren

Petrakis has something more important than skill; a deep and rich humanity.

- Rex Warner
















The city once so rich in gold

—God built Troia I sacked—

The seat of Greek Demigods. I lie

here, the pasture of sheep . . . Mycenae

- Greek Anthology

In the Land of Morning


He returned to America in September, after almost two years in Vietnam. He had flown from Bienhoa airport near Saigon to the base in California on a transport with a hundred other soldiers being discharged. They were a group of subdued and silent men still unable to believe they were going home and not traveling in one of the score of long aluminum coffins a forklift had loaded into their plane at Bienhoa. They rode huddled in silence for most of the long flight, trying to sleep away the hours, little warmth or friendliness between them. From time to time they exchanged a few sparse words.

What you going to do? one asked.

Sleep, another man answered.

Drink, a second man said.

Fuck, said a third man. A few others grunted in agreement.

But Alex had lived so long with the premonition of his death that he could not speculate beyond the miracle of the moment. Why me? He kept thinking. Why should I have come alive out of those fearful jungles and mountains when so many others did not? Jeriba, Davis, Big Fenton, Lockhart, and Sergeant Budny, men with whom he had been bound to a common life, dead, left behind in the earth of that alien land. He had an eerie feeling that because he had survived, in some way each of those men had passed into him, he had absorbed their bodies and their souls.

Even after they had landed, through the day on the base, riding in the back of a truck into San Francisco, to the night in the small, back-street hotel, he heard the lingering whisper of their voices. Why you? They asked. Why me? He thought.

He soaked for a long time in the hot, steaming water of the bathtub, scrubbing himself vigorously in a futile effort to eradicate red delta dust and the smells he felt had penetrated into his pores.

When he had emerged from the water and dried himself, he stared at his naked reflection in the full-length mirror on the back of the door. He had been armored and garrisoned in weapons and bulky clothing so long, he had forgotten what his nakedness was like. Now he looked as if for the first time at the length and leanness of his body, the flesh pale like an ancient image carved from stone. Dark-haired and dark-eyed, mouth tight as if he were chewing on the pits of olives, the small, scabbed and ugly scar of wound at his shoulder, his heart lodged under the sheathing of his ribs, the mushroom-shaped stain of jungle rot fading but not gone from his belly, and his organ, wrinkled and flaccid in the tangled forest of his crotch.

Where was the filthy specter he had been just a few days before? Where was the M-16 rifle, the flak jacket, the helmet with the bottle of mosquito repellent tucked under the band of the camouflage cover? And how strange the raw, new scent of aromatic soap and sanitized flesh that rose from his body. Where were the smells of oil and powder, canvas and dust, urine and sweat? I am alive, he thought with a fierce elation, I am alive.

That night in bed he lay warily between clean sheets and heard the menacing silence around him. He was fearful of closing his eyes, afraid that sleep would hurl him back to the fire base in the jungle, vulnerable before a mortar attack or a sniper's bullet. He slept, finally, fitfully, as dawn smeared a dim gray light across the shade of his window.

A plane would fly him home to Chicago in just a few hours and he needed more time to prepare for the reunion with his mother and sister. He delayed his departure for another day trying to make up his mind, spending most of that time in his hotel room, sleeping or resting, staring at the ceiling, listening to music playing softly from the radio on his bed-stand. The morning of the third day after his arrival in America, he took a cross-country bus home.

In the beginning the days on the bus were over highways running through Nevada and Utah, vast and arid deserts, massive mountains and arches and monuments of limestone gleaming in the distance. His body was lulled into the rhythm of the wheels during the days, but when twilight fell, his fear of darkness and of sleep returned. Sleep was a black, bottomless pit too close to death. When he grew too weary to remain awake, he slept in spurts, opening his eyes to the bursting headlights of oncoming cars, lights that flashed across him for an instant and then were lost in darkness again.

They crossed the dry, flat prairie land of eastern Colorado, and over the open range he saw the first gathering of the birds for the winter migrations.

On the morning of the third day they entered a populous land, more like the country he remembered. The terrain along the highway was cluttered with billboards, service stations, hot-dog and hamburger stands, junkyards littered with the remains of wrecked and dismantled cars, motels with names like Sleepy Hollow and Shady Rest, factories surrounded by tracts of identical houses, similar even to the wash hanging on the lines and on each roof the shafts and coils of TV antennas.

At night they passed through small, darkened towns, streets of shrouded trees and silent houses, occasionally a solitary light gleaming in one of the windows. In the grayness of early morning they stopped for breakfast at bleak roadside cafes, shivered from bus to stools and tables inside, to be served coffee and rolls by dull-cheeked girls with vacant eyes and hstless hands, looking as if they should still have been asleep. When they entered the bus to resume their journey, the driver had been changed, but he drove as the others had driven, with grim intensity, as if he were operating a pneumatic drill.

Entering the outskirts of Chicago, he felt a coldness within his bones, an apprehension that grew when he saw the skyline of the downtown city, skyscrapers rising like some distant mountain range out of the mist. He leaned over the empty seat beside him and spoke to a man sitting across the aisle.

What day is it?

The man pondered for a moment.

Sunday, I think, he said. Yes, it's Sunday.

The bus rumbled over a bridge above the winding river, the water turgid under an overcast sky, and down a ramp into a maze of downtown streets. They came, finally, into the cavernous underground terminal, the interior of the bus growing dark as if it were suddenly night. Carrying his duffel bag, he left the bus, walked through the terminal, and at an exit caught a cab.

They drove west from the loop into a neighborhood of factories and small plants, a series of ramshackle buildings like ruins, unleavened by a trace of tree or grass.

You just back from Vietnam, ain't you? the driver asked Alex. He was a balding, scrawny man, his neck like the scraggy and defeathered cervix of a turkey. When Alex nodded, the driver clucked in pleasure.

I can spot a veteran right off even if he ain't wearing a uniform, he said, because I was in the army myself, in World War Two. He cleared his throat solemnly. Don't believe that shit you been reading in the papers about the country not being behind you. A lot of us back here are proud of you boys.

The cab wheels clattered over the rails and ties of a series of tracks and then swung across an ancient bridge. Alex saw the panorama of a familiar section of the city spread out below him, a desolate landscape of buildings, roofs, fire escapes, and vacant lots. In places whole blocks had been demolished leaving only a bulldozed rubble of crushed brick and stone.

You'll find the goddam trouble with this country now is the longhairs, the driver said earnestly. Freaks and perverts is what they are. You can't blame the cops for cracking their heads after getting bags of shit thrown on them. You know? You read about the trouble during the convention here? What would a vet like you or me do if some longhair creep thrown shit on us? You goddam right! They wouldn't be around to throw shit on anybody again!

They're tearing down a lot of buildings here, Alex said.

This whole area is going, the driver said. I don't know where the hell they going to throw all the bums and winos.

They drove in silence for a few moments.

You'll notice a lot more niggers in everything now too, the driver said. You see them on TV in all the commercials. They're making plenty of money now but in them fancy housing projects where they live, they're still buried under garbage. That's one thing about niggers and Puerto Ricans. They ain't comfortable if they don't have plenty of garbage around.

Let me out at this corner, Alex said. I want to walk the last couple of blocks.

The driver pulled his cab to the curb at the corner and stopped. Alex fumbled in his pocket for money, trying to discern the amount listed on the meter. He handed the driver several singles and clutching his bag started from the cab.

Wait a minute! the driver said. He reached back through the opening in the glass partition and handed Alex one of the dollar bills. No tip from you, no sir! I'm proud of having you in my cab! We're all proud of the job you done over there, make us proud of being Americans. God bless you, son.

Alex took the dollar and closed the door. The cab pulled away.

He began walking slowly up the street, passing a row of dilapidated, flophouse hotels, several shabby old men in overcoats sprawled in doorways, the wastements of empty wine bottles and crumpled paper bags about their scuffled shoes. Something of the hopelessness and resignation in their faces reminded him of the faces of the Vietnamese villagers in the hamlets.

Farther along there were wine and liquor stores, labor markets with boarded-up windows and stickers with faded lettering reading, We need packers and wrappers, order fillers, camp loaders, helpers and cooks. Another sticker read, Boycott grapes. And passing the mouth of an alley between the ruined buildings he heard the rattle of cans and saw an old man burrowing like a rat among the garbage. I am home, he thought grimly.

In the following block he entered the neighborhood he remembered well, a street of stores with lettering in Greek on the signs and windows. There was the candle shop on the corner with the multicolored candles and icons of Christ and the Virgin Mary; the narrow jewelry store with the iron grating protecting the trinkets; the pastry shop with the garishly decorated artificial wedding cake holding the same tiny waxen figures of a bride and groom; the Macedonian grocery and restaurant, through whose window he could see the shelves loaded with jars of olives and peppers, cans of imported olive oil, and straw casks of retsina wine.

The largest and most ornate establishment on the street was the Temple of Apollo, a restaurant owned by Antonio Gallos. In the months he had spent in Vietnam, Alex had thought often of Gallos. The big, swarthy man with diamond rings glittering on his fingers ruled the neighborhood, using force and political influence to advance his own hunger for power.

Gallos was an avid lecher and a zealous gambler. He gambled less for money than to savor the ruining and laying waste of men the way certain soldiers relished the mutilation of a prisoner. It was in a game with Gallos that Alex's father had lost his small grocery and the meager family savings. He had been losing smaller sums for years and that loss was the final achievement. Alex had been about fifteen at the time, in school on the morning his father returned to confess the loss to his mother. He did not know what took place between his parents, the words his mother's bitterness and anger provoked her to say. But from that morning his father changed. The face he wore before his family and friends and strangers was no longer a living one but the shell of what it had been. And he wore that shell while searching out corners where he might sit unnoticed, awaiting an atonement he felt only death could bring.

During Alex's absence, his father had found the death he had been seeking, but Gallos seemed more prosperous than ever. A new neon sign, gaudier than the one before, sparkled with the lights of hundreds of bulbs over the double doors of the entrance. In the long front window the carcass of a young lamb revolved slowly over a bed of glowing coals. Beyond the window he could see the shadowy figures of white-aproned waiters scurrying between the tables while a bouzouki wailed from some hidden corner.

He left the block of shops and entered the street where he lived. The buildings were two-story gray-stones with facades of crumbling brick and mortar, battered porches unchanged except for the advance of decay and disrepair. Beneath the stone cornices of the roofs, pigeons roosted in the crannies. As a child, waking early in the morning in the small front bedroom where he slept, he heard the eerie cooing of the birds. Even as he marked his bedroom window, knew it by the same faded shade and flimsy curtains, a pigeon took flight above it with a noisy flapping of wings.

He walked slowly up the stone steps, assembling his spirit in a final reinforcement. He saw his reflection looming within the murky glass of the door. When his hand touched the knob, a bell began a plaintive tolling. Although he knew the sound came from the steeple of the small Greek church a block away, the church he had attended as a child, he had a chilled intimation that the bell tolled mournfully for the dead—his father's death while he was away and the dead he had left behind him, his friends and comrades, the bodies of humans and beasts hidden in the jungles or partly submerged in the red mud of river banks. Even when they were not visible one knew the bodies were there. Under the blazing heat of the sun the decaying flesh gave off a stench so foul one could not draw a breath for fear of suffocating.

He made an effort to shake the dreadful vision and entered the hallway. He started to ring the bell beside the chipped and tarnished mailbox and remembered he still had the house key, for all the months he had been away, stored among his belongings as an amulet for his return. He inserted the key into the lock and the door opened with a labored squeaking of rusted hinges.

He walked up the worn, uncarpeted stairs to the second floor and came to his door, the same battered entrance he had passed through so many times. He touched the grain of the panel and felt a throbbing near pain in his fingers. He had never walked out without a feeling of relief, never entered without a sense of foreboding. He slipped his key into the lock, felt the tumblers turning, and the door opened. He listened for a moment and then stepped into the dark, cramped hallway, assailed suddenly by the stale scents of the musty rooms.

Adjoining the hallway was the parlor, the shades drawn to prevent the entrance of any light, each shrouded chair, lamp, end table like artifacts excavated from a tomb. And the mantel cluttered with the ornately framed photographs of old-country relatives, their figures grouped in the rigid postures of wedding and baptismal celebrations, glittering like relics from another age.

He walked away from the parlor, along the hallway, passing the shadowed and remembered rooms. There was his mother's room, his sister's room, the room that had belonged to his father. He passed the narrow toilet where water still dripped in the bowl. In the dining room he saw the doorway to

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