"Smokey Joe's Cafe"
by Bryce Courtenay, Penguin, Australia, 2001
A group of Australian diggers, veterans of the Vietnam war, get together to hatch a scheme to get their own back on an ungrateful government. This is a sometimes hilarious, sometimes sad yarn about some of the survivors of the Battle of Long Tan.
Thommo returns from Vietnam, unloved and unwanted by his country, and develops complicated physical and mental problems which officialdom refuses to attribute to his war service. He marries Wendy who stoically puts up with his behaviour, and they have a daughter. At three years of age she develops leukaemia, and needs a bone marrow transplant to survive, and again the government refuses to acknowledge that it might be a result of his Vietnam service.
Angry and alone, seeking moments of peace in the bottle and the weed, he meets with ten of his mates, most of the remnants of his old platoon who survived Long Tan, and they hatch their plan.
They are joined by an ex-Viet Cong whose comrades and family suffer the same symptoms from the same war, and by Wendy, who adds logic and passion to their sometimes fuddled thinking. She helps moulds them, and a large cast of supporting vets, into a unit fighting for justice and maybe a bit of revenge.
This is a short novel, about a three to four hour read, and is more a yarn than the usual full blown novel of Bryce Courtenay. The action is fast and it reads very well. For the veteran, it's a good yarn, much appreciated. It excels in capturing the culture of the digger in Vietnam and the veteran at home, thirty plus years later. Its main theme seems to be to give voice to the plight of Vietnam veterans and their children.
Given the very high profile of the author it should achieve that, and veterans will be grateful to Courtenay.