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  • Sunrise, Sunset: An Immigrant's American Odyssey by Louis G. Sarris
  • Constantine A. Pagedas (bio)
Louis G. Sarris: Sunrise, Sunset: An Immigrant's American Odyssey. Lexington, KY: self-published, 2015. 640 pages. ISBN: 1-505611-63-9. $22.10 (paperback).

Self-published books are usually stigmatized, because it is believed the author couldn't present a book that the well-trained eye of a publisher thought worthy of printing. This is not the case here, however. Louis Sarris's self-published book, Sunrise, Sunset: An Immigrant's American Odyssey, is an elegantly written memoir of a man who was born on the tiny Greek island of Karpathos, whose family emigrated to the United States and endured anti-immigrant discrimination, who fought in the Second World War, and who eventually became an important, if controversial, intelligence officer in the State Department with an encyclopedic knowledge of Vietnam, playing a key role alongside some of Washington's decision makers in the 1960s and 1970s. (Full disclosure—this reviewer's maternal grandparents also emigrated from Karpathos to Chicago in the 1920s.)

Like other immigrants from Karpathos at the time, the Sarris family had moved to [End Page 84] West Virginia and found work in the then thriving coal mining industry. Overall, this family story is a familiar one: A father who was usually gone most of the time working to earn a living wage to take care of his family, alongside a strong and resourceful mother who raised five children and maintained a household.

There are, of course, early on in the book, the familiar vignettes regarding the struggle for Greeks at the time to assimilate into American life. Sarris describes the subtle discrimination by established families and businesses in the segregated suburbs of Wheeling, West Virginia. Moreover, he writes about other groups that did not take too kindly to the newly arrived, non-English-speaking immigrants and who displayed their bigotry with cross burnings and other overt signs of anti-immigrant activities. But there are also stories in Sarris's memoir of local acceptance of Greek immigrants and good people who helped his family thrive in the local community. One of the most important is a fascinating story involving the arrest and potential deportation of Sarris's father, who was wrongfully accused of lying on his application for citizenship as well as aiding and abetting illegal immigrants to work in the coal mines. As a result, Louis's mother dictated a letter to Louis (who was just eleven years old at the time!) to send to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and West Virginia's senator Matthew M. Neely requesting help to resolve his father's legal status. Within a month, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization in Washington, DC, wrote back to take up the elder Sarris's case. The family crisis was averted, and Louis's father eventually became a full US citizen—as did, in turn, the full Sarris family.

It was a good thing, because Louis and his brother Tom both joined the US Army, serving in Europe during the Second World War with distinction. Louis himself was decorated with the Soldier's Medal for his service in the 125th Artillery battalion in late 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge. His battalion destroyed 481 German V-1 rockets and liberated Holland. After a period of service in occupied postwar Europe, Louis returned home to attend West Virginia University under the GI Bill, initially to study medicine, but later, because of his background, experience, and knack for languages, he pursued international relations in his academic career. This in turn led him to Washington, DC, in January 1949 for postgraduate studies, and he was later hired by the same Senator Neely from his home state who had helped the family.

From his vantage point working on Capitol Hill, Louis quickly learned the ins and outs of Washington life in the early Cold War period. As a young office staffer, he saw firsthand the witch hunt against 205 supposed communists in the US State Department by Senator Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin and was present for General Douglas Mac-Arthur's farewell speech to the joint session of Congress when...


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pp. 84-87
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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Archived 2019
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