Author Archives: S.C. Karakaltsas

About S.C. Karakaltsas

I am a published author of historical fiction and short stories.

Book Review: Witness by Louise Milligan

Witness is an important book to read as it exposes gaps in Australia’s legal system.

Louise Milligan is an incredible investigative journalist who has spent years reporting on sexual abuse crimes. Her latest book exposes the toll on victims (known by the legal system as witnesses perhaps to dehumanise them) who attempt to seek justice using that very system. Milligan knows only too well what the experience is like when she took the stand in the case of George Pell’s trial. And although she was not a victim, the process she went through to protect those who had entrusted her with their experiences took a toll. She questioned that if she with resources and skills found the whole thing traumatic, what then of the actual victims of sexual abuse. And what she finds is enough to turn off most except for those who have the strength to take on their perpetrators.

Milligan’s interviews with barristers, judges, defence counsel, and victims together with meticulous research including transcripts, reveal how the wheels of justice operate, and it’s not pretty. It’s brutal and terrifying and more so for the victims who face the system.

“A system where, even if they received what is considered to be justice, they came away from the experience worse than when they went into it.”

 Milligan gives us Saxon Mullins case, a young eighteen-year-old girl raped in an alleyway. The trial itself raised the issue of what is consent but more importantly, what Saxon went through for five years to see her rapist brought to account can only be described as horrendous. The adversarial role the defence counsel uses to discredit, nit-pick and dehumanise a rape victim is put on show with Mullin’s case.

Then the legal system itself is dissected where the pattern of male patriarchy is still strong, where although numbers of women are growing, it’s an industry of self-employed barristers whose livelihood gives little encouragement for the female barrister who has a family or wants one.

Then there’s the environment of the legal industry and the challenges women face as workers. Who could forget Dyson Heydon who sexually harassed several women whilst serving as a High Court judge?

And Peter O’Callaghan QC who was on a retainer for the Catholic Church to manage their response to the hundreds of allegations of sexual abuse by members of the catholic church. A man who received $7.8 million in remuneration from the Catholic church from 1996 to 2014 to administer and hand out compensation of a mere $9.7 m with an average of $32k for each survivor of paedophile priests. Few were recommended for police investigation.

“For victims of sexual crimes, the unquestioning decision to use O’Callaghan’s name for their gallery speaks volumes about the Victorian Bar’s attitude to victims of sexual abuse.”

Milligan paints a vivid picture of what being a witness is like even through her own eyes on the witness stand where the barrister was aggressive, demeaning and disrespectful. Or the room she explains where they put child victims who aren’t allowed to have their dolls or teddy bears in case that should remind the jury that the victim is indeed a child.

Milligan has also endured threats to her life and online twitter trolling yet without people like her, nothing would ever change. And change is happening and Mulligan give us a glimmer of hope that eventually perpetrators of sexual abuse will be brought to account and victims will be treated with care and compassion and consideration of the trauma they’ve gone through.

This book doesn’t hold back. It’s confronting, gripping, eye-opening and terrifying making you think twice about raising a complaint of sexual abuse. Which makes it even more incredible that victims who go through the court system must surely be lauded as true heroes. I thank Louise Milligan and every other investigative journalist who has ever put themselves out there. What they do is enlighten and educate us so that we can stamp our feet and yell out loud to get things changed. This is an important book for everyone to read.

Book Review: Wimmera by Mark Brandi

I was totally unprepared for this unexpected story.

The blurb, (which I rarely check before diving in) is about two young boys, Ben and Fab, who in 1989 do all the things youngsters do; play cricket, go yabbying and camping. They talk about all sorts of things except for how Fab’s dad hits him or what happened to the girl next door. When a new neighbour moves in, their imagination soars wondering if he’s a secret agent. The opening scene is the discovery of a drum in the local river.

It’s a moody book and the first half is pretty much about the boys’ everyday lives from Ben’s point of view with a slow build of tension and foreboding when they meet Ben’s far too friendly neighbour.  Half way through the novel, Ben’s voice disappears and we’re propelled into the future almost twenty years later into Fab’s point of view. Fab still lives in the same country town, lost and alone working in a supermarket and we’re left to wonder what happened to Ben.

The second half takes on a sense of urgency and the story unfolds in a very unsettling way.  I appreciated the second half far more than the first. There was much left to the readers imagination and for the reader to piece together and I liked that. The last couple of chapters was dramatic and a page turner.

The subject matter isn’t for the faint-hearted and there’s no trigger warning about child abuse. But if you can see your way through the dark subject, it’s a very decent debut.

Book Review: Honeybee by Craig Silvey

A masterful tale of what it is to be different, down and out yet surrounded with hope and the goodness of the human spirit.

Honeybee comes from the author of the much-acclaimed Jasper Jones and is not a disappointing read. It’s uncomfortable at times and heart-wrenching, yet has a soul. Its spotlight has no doubt raised incredible awareness into a little-known community who is still finding its voice.

Sam Watson the main character, is a fourteen-year-old who meets Vic, on a bridge. They’re both there for the same reason and an unlikely friendship ensues brought about by a shared bond of their individual suffering. Through Vic, Sam learns acceptance and sets him on a path toward a better life. But Sam also gives something to Vic.

It’s a coming-of-age novel full of petty thefts, extortion plots, botched bank robberies, drag shows and Julia Child’s inspired cooking. But more importantly, it’s a novel of wonderful characters.

Firstly, there’s the sensitive, naïve but heart of gold, Sam. His journey to find himself and learning to live with who he truly is, is beautifully done. Then there’s Vic, who with the help of Sam finds redemption for something he’s lived with his entire life. His love for his wife Edie is touching and the care Sam shows Vic and Edie is very moving. Next, there’s Aggie, a full of life teenager who doesn’t give a damn about what Sam looks like. She sees him for who he really is, knowing him more than Sam himself. There’s Peter, the drag queen who helps pick up the pieces, who extends a hand and role models how life could be for Sam. His mother Sarah, is a difficult character to warm to yet drawn out enough to allow us to understand her much difficult path in life and the choices she made.

It’s a rollercoaster ride of emotion, dark and light, despairing yet hopeful and a great read against the backdrop of beautiful Perth. Put this one on your list.

Book Review: Colour-Coated Identity by Bala Mudaly

What an inspirational story of one man’s journey to understand his place in the world.

This is a memoir by an older Australian who was born an Indian in South Africa. It’s a compelling, personal story of life under Apartheid. It also tells of the author’s fraught travels across Africa, Europe, Asia and, eventually, Australia to find a sense of self beyond the toxic constraints of race, colour and class.

Growing up under South Africa’s brutal regime of apartheid, Mudaly struggles to overcome the hurdles and obstacles to acquire education and employment because of the colour of his skin and his race.

He roams the world searching for answers. Along the way he embraces life as a teacher in the newly formed country of Zimbabwe, undertakes further studies obtaining his Masters and Doctorate, works in Scotland, travels across Europe and goes back to the land of his grandparents, India. His experience opens his eyes to a life of freedom, beyond the country of his birth where upon his return, he struggles to accept and fit in with the harsh conditions under which, as an Indian he is forced to live.

“I’ve journeyed long, travelled far and, in the process, faced many inconvenient truths about myself.”

 To find a voice and purpose, Mudaly throws himself into the sometimes, dangerous yet courageous path of activism joining the ANC in order to help bring about change not just for his country but for himself.

This is a remarkable memoir pulling the reader into Mudaly’s recollections while reliving with him the harsh reality of segregation in South Africa reminding us all of the constant struggles between races, past and present.

It’s as thoughtful as it is thought-provoking, full of insight, resilience and reflection. Highly recommended.

Review copy courtesy of the author

Available now on Amazon

Book Review: Educated by Tara Westover

A remarkable read about a young girl growing up in a fundamentalist Mormon family who prepared for the end of the world, believed that the government and health professionals weren’t to be trusted and that education should only come from home-schooling.

How Tara Westover achieved her education without stepping into a classroom until she was in university is quite incredible.

But this memoir is more than her struggle and achievement towards education. It’s a journey to understand her family and her place in it after she learns how to think and question and challenge her family and the way they live.

As a small child, Tara is home-schooled, learning to read and write mostly from the bible. When she’s big enough she is enlisted alongside her other siblings, seven in all, to help out in her fathers scrapping junkyard. Her father knows nothing of safety and when he threw scraps of metal Tara made sure she got out of the way. Indeed, the accidents on the site made for harrowing reading: her brother Luke’s burning leg, another brother, Shawn who fell from a great height, her mother’s head injury after a motor vehicle accident where seat belts weren’t worn and finally her father’s own horrific accident where he almost died. What was even more horrifying was the parents’ belief that the injuries could be dealt with at home from faith and herbal remedies.  Doctors were never visited and hospital was out of the question.  Tara herself suffered as well.

“My back struck iron: the trailers wall. My feet snapped over my head and I continued my graceless plunge to the ground. The first fall was seven or eight feet, the second perhaps ten.” Of her mother’s reaction to her fall? “She rested her left hand lightly on the gash and crossed the fingers of her right. Her eyes closed. Click, click, click. ‘There’s no tetanus,’ she said. ‘The wound will close. Eventually. But it’ll leave a nasty scab.’

As Tara grew into her teens, she realised her place as a woman in the family and outside of it. She was constantly reminded of her place in the kitchen by her father. A loving relationship between her and her older brother Shawn turned sour and violent in her teen years scarring her physically, emotionally and mentally. The terrifying violence was made all the sadder because Tara and her family cover for Shawn. When she questions it as she grows older and challenges what he has done, the family turns against her.

It’s a sad story but also an uplifting one as Tara makes her way in the world without the shackles of her gaslighting family. You could mistake her childhood memories as being inaccurate or exaggerated, but she has verified her memories with those of her older brothers, Tyler, Richard and Tony. They made their way out on their own and have been supportive of her.

This is an extremely well written and impactful story detailing a life not in the 1800’s but in the last thirty odd years. An incredible read.  

Book Review: Shiver by Allie Reynolds

Milla hadn’t seen Curtis, Dale, Heather and Brent since the fateful day ten years earlier when Saskia, Curtis’s sister went missing in the alps, never to be found. A reunion in a remote chalet on the French mountain turns deadly as the five ‘friends’ discover themselves stranded, alone and snowstorm brewing.

The premise sounds suspenseful and the descriptions of the surrounding snow and cold, vivid. What happened on that mountain ten years earlier unravels throughout the novel with accusations flying between the friends until the cracks appear.

Knowing nothing about snowboarding, the author, an experienced professional snowboarder provided terrific descriptions. I did get lost at times but appreciated in the end how technical and skilled a snowboarder must be and the intricacies of the sport. Nevertheless, at times it appeared a little repetitive, perhaps because it lost me. I’m sure those who know the sport might appreciate it more.

I was grateful for the short chapters which flipped between now and then until they merged towards the end of the novel where we find that not everything is as you expect which is what I really liked about it.

The characters, however let it down somewhat as they weren’t particularly likeable and in particular, Milla was frustrating. But she is written as being young, naïve and single-minded to the point of taking too many risks bordering on stupidity. Unfortunately, I didn’t care much for her even though I did try. And although her motivation was explained, she seemed much the same as she’d been ten years earlier. Saskia was even worse, as I didn’t get her at all nor did I understand the relationship with her brother. I expected some big family revelation but there was none.

It’s a light easy read, slow in the first half but picks up pace in the second half but not so riveting for me.  I guess I just grew tired of these people on the mountain.

Book Review: All Our Shimmering Skies by Trent Dalton

This is historic fiction but not as we know it.

Set in Darwin during World War Two, it opens with Molly Hook a young child, digging graves for her father and uncle who care more for moonshine and stealing items of value from graves than for her. Her life is hard having lost her mother. She lives in a cemetery with her only friend Bert her shovel, and looks to the sky for guidance. When bombs begin falling, she grabs her grandfather’s treasure map and runs with the idea that if she can locate Longcoat Bob she can convince him to lift the curse she believes he put on their family many years earlier. She meets up with Greta Maze a sharp-witted actress and Yukio, a Japanese pilot along the way and find that they too have their own need to run.

The history of the Japanese invasion of Darwin and the impact on Australia was a fascinating account both from the point of view of Yukio as well as from the various characters in the book.

What stands out with this novel is the characters who are all very well drawn. The relationship between the glamourous actress, Greta, the caring Yukio and Molly was heartfelt and beautifully portrayed. Dare I say it, the star of the show would have to be Bert, the shovel who comes in handy on many occasions throughout the odyssey.

Dalton excels in placing us right into the landscape, the rocks, the foliage, the animals and especially the crocodiles and the imagery is a vivid showcase of Australian landscape reflected also in the magnificent book cover.

The second half of the book fell into magical fantasy which was completely unexpected and jarred a little but I went with it, fantastical as it was with a craziness from a completely vivid imagination. As I read, I found it a little difficult to take the leap to believability.

Yet it’s a very well written book, grappling with themes of intergenerational trauma, loss and hope, and like a fable is a good one to read. Thoroughly enjoyable.