A pregnant woman was driving in the HOV lane near Dallas.
NEW YORK –The real word can be tough to take. “When the Dodgers left Brooklyn I gave up baseball,” says Constantine (Gus) Cristo, the author of Superhero, a novel about the “real” man behind the comic book character.
But Cristo is not a quitter – and neither was his book’s main character. Cristo turned to basketball, and skill and perseverance earned him a full college scholarship. He later became a restructuring guru, a kind of superman of the corporate world.
“I’m a turnaround guy. I need something there to fix,” said Cristo, and so does his superhero.
The actual and fictional men had a deep need to be useful – and being heroes was the result, not the motivation behind their actions.
But heroes can be disappointing – especially to themselves.
In Cristo’s book, being superhuman is not what it is cracked up to be, hence an elderly Nick Petrakis finds it hard to forgive himself “one moment of emotional weakness,” according to the blurb. “Nick confesses his gifts to a stranger who recreates his story as an indestructible comic book character,” it continues, causing his life to tumble out of control – and sapping his usefulness.
Although Cristo’s story reads like Greek tragedy, it offers a chance at redemption. Along the way, the author provides his readers with an exciting ride, and he makes them care deeply about his characters.
It is not action-adventure story, like the Superman movies, but more a crime drama – disturbing at times. It is a journey deep into human nature and psychology – with a touch of Greek history to inspire, because – yes, Cristo’s Superhero was raised by good Middle American parents, but they were born in Greece, conveying values Cristo believes grounded Petrakis’ potentially volatile character.
Cristo’s passionate Hellenism came late in his life. His wife Debora, who is actually French-English, “Became more Greek that I am.”
They have two sons and she scolds him for not knowing enough Greek to teach them. Eventually, they all found their way back to Hellenism, but Cristo seemed to show them how to be Renaissance men first.
When they lived in Tulsa, OK, he operated a video production subsidiary. As in the book, the accidental can change lives dramatically.
One day after the video production chapter in Cristo’s life closed, he found his sons exploring the abandoned equipment. They made films together and Paul, a musical prodigy, is a working film score composer in L.A. Alex, two years younger, is thriving on the business end of the film industry, but the creative life calls strongly: he is an author, jazz guitarist and inventor.
Eventually the parents followed the Children to California, but Cristo’s roots are in New York.
His mother Efstathia was born in Manhattan but was sent to Lemnos when she was two – her parents were previously displaced from Imbros to Lemnos after the Asia Minor Disaster – and she didn’t return to America until she was 17.
Cristo’s father Pavlos was born on the shores of the Sea of Marmara but when the latter’s father was off on his adventures – he fought for the recovery of Macedonia with the future martyr, Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Smyrna, and later became his bodyguard, – more Superman motifs – Cristo’s father became the man of the house.
He later served in the Greek army during the Asia Minor campaign that turned into a disaster, but would never answer Cristo’s questions about the harrowing experience. He served as a medic “Because he said he was not going to kill any Turks – his father took care of that for the both of them,” Cristo said.
That kind of humanitarianism is another Superman element, and the themes of displacement, and absent fathers, and children cut off from their families are also part of his story.
The family ended up in Thessaloniki and one day his grandmother put a gold coin in his father’s pocket and told him “go to America and send us money so we don’t starve.”
He entered the U.S. in South Carolina and tracked down an uncle in New York who worked at a restaurant.
“He taught himself to read and write and became an American citizen and met my mom at a Panlemnian picnic.”
The strength of both his parents’ characters are reflected in Petrakis, but fathers, although often absent, are a powerful presence in the book.
Cristo’s father began as cobbler with a shoe repair shop, and then became a successful restaurateur in an industrial area in Jersey City, but his thinking was advanced. Cristo told TNH “my father said you beat donkeys, not children” and he always told his son he was the smartest person he’d ever met – unlike parents who make sport of putting down their children.
His mother never understood why she and her brother were left behind for 15 years in Lemnos, but the courage that came of playing with the unexploded WWII bombs on the beach of Lemnos may have made its way to the book, whose hero feared neither bullets nor bombs.
BIRTH OF GREEK SUPERMAN
Cristo got the idea for the book when one of the Superman movies came out. “It just sprang into my head ‘I wonder what it would be like if Superman was a real person. It would seem to me his life would be absolutely miserable” – and that was the inspiration for writing the book he said.
Cristo’s earlier book, titled In the Beginning There Was Me, was “self-therapy” for him.
“I just decided to write…I asked what if God were to go on a rant and He just started talking…I just took all the stuff that was banging around in my head” – Cristo was a trained engineer and he studied quantum physics but determined those could not lead to a job – and wrote in into that book.
The author of Superman is listed as Soledad Samson, but that pen name resulted from a mistake. “I like alliteration,” Constantine Cristo said, but he believed Soledad was a word related to “sun.”
Rather, it means solitude, but even that reflects Nick Petrakis’ life.
Samson just flowed from Soledad – he never made the connection with the superman-like Old Testament figure – who also wrecked his life in one moment of weakness.
The more deeply one looks at Cristo’s Superman, the more one finds.
Along with writing, Hellenism became a passion, but Cristo would not have believed it in his youth.
“I was an athlete and I was absolutely furious I had to go to Greek school twice a week. My cousin and I revolted…Now I regret not speaking Greek.”
His path to advocate of Hellenism included a mentor – George Koulaxes who was part of the team that built the Saturn V rocket that took humanity to the moon.
“He would tell me things about Hellenism that were so incredible that he turned me into a militant. To me, the only thing that can save the world from the destruction we are heading towards is Hellenism. We must reintroduce Hellenism t the world.”
That’s why he started the non-profit organization, The Protognosis Institute – Republic Of Plato – especially to inspire the youth of the community. “The Greek diaspora has been going for 3000 years and that is the foundation – and the Orthodox Church,” for a better future.
The name stems from the profound respect he developed from Plato after his youngest son showed him The Republic. “It could have been written six months ago,” Cristo said of its wisdom.
A pregnant woman was driving in the HOV lane near Dallas.
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