The Making of Mrs Petrakis by Mary Karras

The Making of Mrs Petrakis Book Cover

The Making of Mrs Petrakis
Mary Karras
General Fiction (Adult) | Women's Fiction
John Murray Press
13 May 2021


Cyprus in the run up to the civil war of the 1970s... the threat of it hangs in the atmosphere like a fine mist. A terrible thing, war. Against this backdrop of war and violence, the island's inhabitants make the best they can of their lives, building friendships, falling in love, having children, watching people die, making mistakes.

Maria Petrakis, however, flees a brutal marriage on the island where she has always lived for London and a new start. She opens a bakery on Green Lanes in Harringay - the centre of the small Greek Cypriot community whose residents have settled there to escape the war and start again. Here she comes into her own as she heals and atones through the kneading of bread and the selling of shamali cakes and cinnamon pastries to her customers.

There are glimpses of the lives of her neighbours, friends and customers as they buy their bread and cakes. There's Mrs Koutsouli, whose heart was broken when her handsome son married a xeni, an English woman with fish-eyes and yellow hair. There's Mrs Pantelis, driven half-mad with the grief of losing her son, Nico, in the war. And there's Mrs Vasili who claims to be related to Nana Mouskouri and grows her hair upwards so she can feel closer to God. Finally, there's Elena, Maria Petrakis' daughter-in-law, who has been suffering with the blackness since having a baby, and whom nobody knows quite how to help.

The Making Of Mrs Petrakis is a story about the limited choices women sometimes find themselves confronting. It's a story about repression and mental illness and the devastation it can wreak on lives. But above all, it is a story of motherhood and love and of healing through the humble act of baking.

“The Making of Mrs. Petrakis” by Mary Karras is a poignant narrative that weaves together the themes of family, migration, and the resilience of the human spirit. Set against the backdrop of Cyprus during the 1970s civil war, the story follows Maria Petrakis, who escapes a tumultuous marriage to start anew in London. Opening a bakery in Harringay, the heart of the Greek Cypriot community, Maria finds solace and purpose in the art of baking, offering a taste of home to her fellow expatriates through her shamali cakes and cinnamon pastries.

The novel offers a window into the lives of the community members, each grappling with their own struggles and losses. From Mrs. Koutsouli, whose heart aches over her son’s marriage to an outsider, to Mrs. Pantelis, who is consumed by grief over the loss of her son in the war, and Mrs. Vasili, who seeks divine connection through her unique hairdo. The story also touches on the challenges faced by Elena, Maria’s daughter-in-law, as she battles the darkness of postpartum depression.

Karras skillfully captures the essence of a community bound by shared history and the universal quest for healing and redemption. The novel is not only a testament to the limited choices women often face but also a celebration of motherhood, love, and the transformative power of baking. It’s a story that resonates with anyone who has ever sought to rebuild their life in the face of adversity.

With its evocative mix of history, food, and storytelling, “The Making of Mrs. Petrakis” has been recognized as one of the best fiction works of 2021 by the Evening Standard and has garnered praise for its heartwarming and heartbreaking portrayal of life’s complexities. Mary Karras emerges as a fresh and exciting voice in fiction, with prose as delectable as the pastries in Mrs. Petrakis’ renowned bakery.


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