Smokey Joe's Cafe by Bryce Courtenay
13 July 2002


While I have had nightmares in which I read Bryce Courtenay on the train, my first exposure to his work was not unpleasant. The plot, in a nutshell: a bunch of screwed-up Vietnam veterans get together and raise money to help themselves and their children recover from the effects of Agent Orange. Said money is raised through a huge marijuana-dealing scheme.

Several parts made me cry. I am always a little suspicious of books that do this, as I am of ones that I finish in under a week. Smoky Joe's Cafe only took me three days.

But the narrator's recollection of his best friend's death at the battle of Long Tan is moving, as is his very real distress about his baby daughter's leukaemia. Those bits are good. The rest is almost too easy. The dope ring is instantly profitable and operates for a year without getting busted. (After that they run out of plants and shut down operations.) A bone marrow donor is found for little Anna who just happens to be a long-lost member of the family. The narrator's wife doesn't leave him and, apart from the slight hitch of his dying at 54, everything seems to be happy-ever-after.

A good airport read. Back to the real stuff.


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