A Perfect Stone by S.C. Karakaltsas

This is a dual timeline novel set in Greece in the mid-20th century and Australia in the 21st century. Nine-year-old Dimitri is exposed to the senseless brutalities of war when his father is taken away to prison for no apparent fault. Later he becomes one of the thousands of children forcibly removed from their homes to save them from becoming victims of the Greek civil war. Accompanied by a few brave women, Dimitri and his friends make a gruelling trek through the mountains without adequate food, clothing or shelter and exposed to bombs dropped from “blackbirds” as well as the risk of a chance encounter with soldiers who might or might not be sympathetic. The heroism and compassion of the children are awe-inspiring but never defies belief.

The story of the trek and Dimitri’s assimilation into a new life in a new country is told in the memoirs of Jim, an octogenarian of failing memory. Who nevertheless retains a sense of humour. After a stroke puts him in hospital, his over-protective daughter, Helen, helps him to confront a past he has hidden and overcome the guilt he has carried for decades.

This is a fictional story but based on actual events, and the author wastes not a word in evoking sympathy for those most vulnerable members of society, without ever becoming maudlin.

I didn’t know there was a Greek civil war. And although I vaguely understood that children were sometimes evacuated for their own safety, I never gave a thought to how those children felt about being separated from their parents and how they may have suffered in other ways. I now know that P.T.S.S. is not confined to soldiers.

This book is the best kind of historical novel: engaging, enlightening and thought-provoking. Kudos to the author for a well-told tale.

This review was originally written for Discovering Diamonds.

The War King by Eric Schumacher

Set in 10th century Norway, this is the third book in the saga of Hakon the Good. I haven’t read the first two, but I had no difficulty reading this one and understanding what went before. Hakon took the kingdom into his own hands after the death of the previous ruler and exiled his sons instead of killing them as he was urged to do. (Maybe that was why he was called The Good). There was a price to be paid for such clemency. Battle scenes dominate as Hakon fights to maintain his position against the dispossessed sons supported by the Danes. Descriptions of wounds inflicted by various weapons in various ways are not for the faint-hearted.

Hakon is a Christian with his own priest and has to walk a careful path between his own beliefs and those of his pagan followers. Juxtaposed against gory battle scenes is a later-life love affair that blooms between him and Deidre, the daughter of one of his chiefs.

The book doesn’t spare us the violence of those days but I would have liked to see a little more detail about Viking ‘life’. However, I am sure it will appeal to those interested in Norse sagas and war in general.

I wrote this review for Discovering Diamonds.

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