Three Grains of Wheat by Mike Papasavas

Reviewed by Douglas R. Cobb

Three Grains of Wheat by Mike PapasavasThree grains of wheat are so small, and seemingly insignificant, but it’s what they can represent that’s important. A mere three grains of wheat, and the promise they represent, can influence a person’s entire life. In his memoir, Three Grains of Wheat, Mike Papasavas looks back on an extremely rich life in which more than once, the course it took was influenced by small things that made all the difference in how he went from a rural life in Rhodes, to Germany, then Canada, and finally, America. The story of how he went from his humble beginnings to become a successful businessman, banker, and family man in America is nothing short of miraculous, and led me to believe, as I was reading, that Papasavas’ belief that the course of his life has been divinely guided must have some basis in fact. Three Grains of Wheat is an inspiring memoir of how grit, determination, a belief in the importance of the small things in life, and an abiding religious faith can take a person literally anywhere he or she wants to go.

What do three grains of wheat mean to you? Possibly nothing, as they are so small. But to Mike Papasavas, then known as Emmanuel or Manolis, they represented a promise that one day his life would change for the better:

One day when I was working in the fields, I was suddenly overtaken by a strange sensation of depression, fear, anxiety, and desperation. At that moment, I stopped the animals in the middle of the path. I took three grains of wheat from one of the bags and placed them under a stone. This act–those three grains of wheat beneath the rock–symbolized my commitment to one day abandon the village life and seek my own path. Those three grains of wheat have served as a reminder that there will always be opportunities beyond the familiar.

I like it that much of the tale of the author’s earliest years as a boy in the Greek village of Agios Isidoros, where he was born in 1938, is told in the form of flashbacks to his past that Mike has while traveling by train to Bonn, Germany. His memories of encounters with Nazis, and of his school career and of when he temporarily ran around with a gang of other young boys, are very interesting. Some of the things he did, like banging on a hand grenade, made me wonder how he ever survived to enjoy the success and happiness of his later life.

Another memory Mike has on the train illustrates the crucial importance of the number three in the author’s life. It was when he was trying to attend high school, and pay for the tuition himself. It was a time when he had little money left over from his job to buy any food, and he survived on very little to eat, like bags of peanuts. He was living outside for a while, in the cold and the elements, and he even considered committing suicide. Then at three in the morning, he heard the church bells ring:

I would remember it as the “three tower clock rings” and similar to the grains of wheat, compare it with any future difficulty or obstacle, to remind me how much suffering or misery a person can endure. I will never, never forget that moment, as the echo of the peeling chimes has been permanently recorded in a non-erasable section of my memory.

The author’s twisting and turning route to eventual success was far from an easy one. He only knew a few words in German, most of which he’d read as he studied up on the language on the train to Bonn, but Mike didn’t let a little matter like not knowing the language of the country he was bound for prevent him from going there to live and work. The same was true when he later traveled to Canada, and be among the lowest paid workers because he didn’t speak English, and it was also true when he first arrived in America. But, despite the initial hardships the author details that he suffered through in each new country he moved to, his bosses recognized his intelligence and determination, and rewarded his hard work with bonuses, pay raises, and promotions.

The book also gets into what the author’s life was like when he wasn’t working, like the friends he met, and his love interests. These portions of his memoir I also found to be very interesting, and revealing in how his dating and interactions with other people revealed information about Mike’s moral code of ethics. Like almost everyone, he’s done some things he isn’t proud of; but, in general, his code of ethics and sense of outrage when someone he personally knew acted immorally showed me a lot about his upstanding character.

Three Grains of Wheat by Mike Papasavas is one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. It’s not one about a famous actor, politician, or sports figure, but a person like you or me. That’s why you, like I did, will find it so easy to identify with Mike Papasavas and his life. I’ve often wondered, as he does, how my own life would have been different if I hadn’t done this or that, if I hadn’t met my wife and we had our two children, etc., and I also can’t help but to feel that divine guidance had to have been involved. But, whether or not you believe this, you’ll find Three Grains of Wheat to be a gripping, engrossing memoir you’ll want to be sure to read.

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