Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Book Review: 'The Ghost Years' by Mutch Katsonga

‘Society screws up its face when it looks upon me but comprehends nothing of its own dichotomous self!’

Australian author Mutch Katsonga earned his degrees in Creative Writing and Journalism from Griffith University, Australia. He has published three books to date – BEYOND THE SPIRAL GATES, WHERE WILDFIRES GLOW, and THE GHOST YEARS. In addition to his creativity in writing he also writes songs, is a musician, and a qualified Mental Health Professional and has worked in various youth and rehab services. He continues to record, perform and release his original music, which is available online under his stage name Indie Soull.

Mutch’s choice of cover art for his book speaks volumes – and image that repeats in black and white at the end of each chapter. This is a very finely wrought story of the decline and fall and search for meaning for a young man that speaks directly to so many fellow travelers who hopefully will read this version of one man’s life. The manner in which Mutch introduces his main character breathes a thread of constancy that is felt throughout the book. ‘I stirred the steaming black liquid in slow perfect circles. The black liquid continued its seemingly endless swirl, creating a whirlpool. I watched it, fixated, as it slowly settled, stagnant and still, resembling glistening crude oil. I like my coffee strong. At times it is no more than a thick bitter sludge I pour down my throat. I lifted the cup to my lips and took a noisy sip. The steam was still rolling off the top so I approached it cautiously. It was a typical day at my first job since leaving a drug and alcohol rehab facility six months prior. I had been clean since and I dragged my feet to support meetings once a week but I won’t lie and say I didn’t still get cravings. My job was nothing fancy. I worked at Twilights Assisted Living Facility located at the apex of Bluff Hill on the south side of town. I worked as a porter and kitchen-hand, serving meals to the residents. I would also wheel residents to their therapeutic sessions and walks around the grounds. My dad had got me the job. He felt working in a retirement home would give my life a renewed sense of purpose, and I had agreed with him. Working with the elderly was never part of my long term goals, I assure you, and after only two months I was starting to feel a morbid kinship with the residents. In my pensive “spaced-out” state I had lost track of time and by the time I snapped back, my coffee had gone cold. I hate cold coffee. There was a sudden knock on the door, “Your break is over, its time for the afternoon tea run!” The voice is that of the shift manager, Cole. He is a few years older than me and brim-full of youthful zeal but does not care much for the elderly residents.’

A tale of this sensitivity is not easy to condense, though the synopsis supplied attempts: ‘Sometimes our simplest wishes can be the most difficult to attain. A young man's attempt to pick up the pieces and start over only to be presented with greater obstacles than he could ever have envisioned. Through visceral first-person accounts and stark, vivid imagery, the story chronicles the obstacles of depression, drug addiction, and the trials of homelessness that he endures on his path to self-discovery. He is taken to unimaginable and devastating places, both physically and psychologically. How much control does he really have over his fate?’

Toward the end Mutch offers the following – ‘I have a new found respect and appreciation for life; my life, all life. I suddenly recall the complete words I had read on that religious poster; “Every breath we breathe is a testament to the beauty of creation and every heartbeat is a footstep high on heaven’s hill.” There are no ghosts in the realm of the living.’ This is the work of a sensitive poet who molds language as though on a potter’s wheel that results in unspeakably beautiful art. Highly Recommended.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.