Ethnic Pride, Greek Style

I just started readingThe Turnaround by George Pelecanos. George is one of the best writers in the US and A right now. He’s often damned with faint praise “he’s good for a mystery writer.” That drives me batshit for two reasons:

First, Pelecanos writes hard boiled crime fiction, not polite mysteries wherein the butler is the murderer.

Second, some of my favorite American authors write crime fiction: Raymond Chandler, Elmore Leonard and James Lee Burke spring instantly to mind. All are great literary stylists who work the dark side of the street.

It’s patronizing to say “so and so is good for their genre.” I’d rather read Pelecanos than most purveyors of literary fiction any day. Almost as importantly, George brought the word malaka to a broader audience in Season Two ofThe Wire and for that I’m eternally grateful.

I didn’t start this post to proclaim my admiration of George Pelacanos’ work but to tell a story about my late father. He was a first generation American born to Greek immigrant parents, the sort of person who Lindsey Graham wants to deny citizenship to in the future. Bad Lindsey: your malakatude is showing. Anyway, my father was a World War II veteran and lifelong Republican but of the type that no longer exists: a moderate Eisenhower Republican. He was the kind of conservative who preferred private charities to government programs but when push came to shove, he thought people in need should be given a helping hand. The only hand proffered by conservatives nowadays comes in the form of a fist. And knuckle sandwiches aren’t nutritious.

Back to ethnic pride. My father avidly followed the careers of successful Greek Americans and loved talking about them. He had a deep and booming voice, which Dr. A loves imitating. Whenever the subject arose he’d say, for example: “Elia Kazan is Greek. He’s doing very well, you know.” I cannot recall how many times he used the same formulation but I heard it hundreds of times; especially as he aged. It was always rather endearing, less endearing was his insistence that he was the world’s foremost authority on all Greek Americans.

I’ll never forget a bizarre argument we had over Elia Kazan’s late cinematic masterpiece America, America. My dad insisted that it was an autobiographical film and I made the mistake of correcting him. Not only had I seen the movie and he hadn’t but I had just finished reading Kazan’s memoirs. I informed him that the main character was based on Kazan’s uncle and that Elia had been born in America. We went round and round on that one until I relented and reverted to surly teendom and said: “Whatever.” My father always had to be right even when he didn’t have a clue; particularly when his ethic group was involved. So it goes.

George Pelecanos is Greek. He’s doing very well, you know.

p>Cross-posted at Adrastos.

5 thoughts on “Ethnic Pride, Greek Style

  1. A story about crime writers vs. literary writers:
    A few years ago I was invited to the SC Book Festival. There were about a dozen of us crime writers and a few dozen literary types. As one of our group noted, “Lots of bow ties.”
    On Saturday night we took over a bar in downtown Columbia. The crime folks sat in one part of the bar drinking and swapping stories. We were loud.
    The literary writers sat in another part of the bar and quietly sipped whatever tasteful thing it was in their stemware. After a while, a literary guy sidled over and said he’d have to kill someone in his next book because we were much more fun.
    That led to speculation as to why. We finally decided that crime writers were more fun to drink with because
    A. We drink more.
    B. We’re entertainers by trade.
    On the other hand, literary writers usually work in academia and as the saying goes, the politics in academia are so brutal because the rewards are so small.
    One of the unforeseen benefits of writing a crime novel is that you get accepted into this generous and entertaining group of people. I am forever grateful.
    If you get an opportunity to drink with people who, when buying a new car speculate as to how many bodies would fit in the trunk, seize it. You won’t be sorry.
    Yes, Pelicanos is one of our greats.
    And thanks for letting me tell this story.

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