buddhism

Off the Beaten Track

Off the Beaten Track
Categories: ,
Author:
Published: October 23, 2014
Author's Twitter: @Wussyboy
My Crazy Year in Asia In 1989, Frank Kusy found himself the unwilling love slave of a booted and bodiced Boadicea on a Harley low rider. Then he fell in love with someone else, and it got a lot worse. Trapped in a small bedsit in London, with strange foreign curses coming through the door, he jumped at the chance to write a travel book on South East Asia. There followed the craziest year of his life: he got married in a Balinese village, attacked by giant spiders in Australia, and bombed on the Cambodian border. Not to mention starting a new business in India, nearly killing the King of Thailand and receiving the death penalty in Malaysia. Oh, how Frank wished he’d never met that crazy Polish biker chick… …a really enjoyable, rollicking, true adventure set in the non-touristy parts of Asia…

December 5, 2014

An engaging Memoir

Off the Beaten Track is a memoir of long time travel writer Frank Kusy, author of the AIA Seal of Excellence winner Rupee Millionaire. Kusy’s experience as a writer shows in the fluid, vibrant prose he uses to describe his travels in Asia in the seventies. This is an engaging story full of anecdotes that have you smiling and shaking your head at the antics of the young Kusy.

The difficulty in memoir writing is to find a thread that unifies the story in the way that the plot does in fiction. Generally, real life isn’t as dramatic as fiction, and in unskilled hands, it’s easy to lose a reader if the account of a person’s life wanders aimlessly. This would be particularly easy to do in a travel memoir, but Kusy has worked skilfully with his material and used the thread of his efforts to both secure and avoid getting a wife in the same way that a fiction writer would use a plot. Though the various anecdotes are interesting in themselves, without this emphasis, they would not provide such a satisfying whole. We want to read to the end to see how young Frank’s bumbling efforts at romance turn out. Frank is an endearing character and his perspective on the world and efforts to live as a Buddhist add another layer of interest to the memoir.

The other theme, as the title suggests, is his desire to get off the beaten track, and the events that thwart his attempts to really experience Asia without a whiff of tourists provide further interest beyond a mere account of his travels. Though not as dramatic as Rupee Millionaires, it’s still a great read, especially for anyone interested in travel in Asia. Highly recommended.

The editing is excellent. My only misgiving was that I would have liked the author to have gone more deeply into some aspects of his journey; for example, the ceremony when the Joju Gohonzon was enshrined in the main temple in Jakarta. No doubt the author has his reasons for staying clear of it, but I felt it was a missed opportunity to go deeper into the culture.

All up Kusy is a very talented memoir writer and this book should be enjoyed by a wide variety of people.

The First Noble Truth

First Noble Truth, The
Machiko Yamamoto pulls out her hair, picks at her skin, and triple checks the locks to the house behind the school where she works. When a foreigner moves into a neighboring thatched roof cottage, she quickly falls in love with the quiet woman with the mangled hand.   Machiko Yamamoto pulls out her hair, picks at her skin, and triple checks the locks to the house behind the school where she works. When a foreigner moves into a neighboring thatched roof cottage, she quickly falls in love with the quiet woman with the mangled hand. Krista Black does not mind the weekly visits from the local English teacher. The scarred woman seems harmless, but she always wants to talk about travel and language and why Krista has come to the remote, Japanese village. Krista avoids her questions. She has seen much of the world, and she knows what it does to fragile people. Machiko may want to know her, but she could never understand her. Set in Kyoto, New England, Africa and Kathmandu, The First Noble Truth is a story of redemption, interwoven between two protagonists, across two cultures. It peers beneath the comfort of expected storytelling to investigate the dualities of suffering and joy, religion and sex, and cruelty and kindness.

Reviewed by Awesome Indies' Assessor

September 29, 2014

An illuminating tale beautifully told

The First Noble Truth is a tale told in the voices of two women. The author has made the interesting choice of giving us one voice in first person and the other in third person. Counterintuitively, I found the third person voice the more intimate of the two.

Krista, in first person, relates the circumstances of her life with some detachment; Machiko’s story is immersive, full of rich detail. Krista’s suffering is caused by large events—by loss, by grief; Machiko’s by the small injustices of daily life. Krista’s story is grim; Machiko’s is heartbreaking.

Krista and Machiko are very different from each other in superficial ways—race, nationality, family—yet the life of each woman is curtailed by suffering. Krista’s suffering prompts her to become an eternal vagabond, while Machiko’s affliction keeps her close to home, but each woman endures the loneliness imposed by her suffering, and in the end, it is the recognition of their shared experience that allows them to truly encounter each other.

What makes this book extraordinary is the power of the writing. It builds the worlds of these two women little by little, a piece at a time, until the reader finds herself woven into the fabric of the story, until the reader discovers herself in the lives of two strangers. This is a book that will change you.

Lost In Seattle

Lost in Seattle
Publisher:
Published: May 6, 2012
Lost in Seattle is the story of William Brenner. An educated male in his mid-fifties, Willie retains a dry sense of humor and a sharp perception of reality and hope, after being downsized out of a lucrative job and losing his home, marriage and lifestyle. Relocated to a small apartment in a rundown neighborhood south of Seattle, Willie struggles to survive, yet retains his self-respect. Lost is the fictional equivalent of Nickel and Dimed, painted against a post 9/11 contemporary background and a government less trusted every day.    

Reviewed 

5 Stars

I have an immense amount of respect for authors who can write about ordinary people’s ordinary lives and make them interesting. Only good writers can do this, and this author is one such person.

Lost in Seattle is about Willie, a man in his fifties who lost his engineering job and suddenly found himself one of the long term unemployed, trying to get by on temporary work at the lower end of the employment market. The book gives a vivid portrayal of what life in the USA is like for those who drift from one temp job to another, or who work in unskilled, lowly paid jobs. The jobs are boring, tiring  and sometimes dangerous, and the companies running them don’t  care about the workers. News headlines provide a depressing economic and political commentary that underscores the reality of Willie’s life and provokes impassioned comment from his coworkers. We are left in no doubt about the feelings of alienation felt by these underpaid workers. The politicians have left them in the lurch. The country belongs to the rich. No one cares about the workers. The only way Willie can get by is by putting everything on his credit card, and the more debt he accrues, the more credit cards he is offered. The whole system is stuffed.

The book isn’t as depressing as this makes it sound, however, because Willie finds friends amongst people who would never have rubbed shoulders with had he not been unemployed – a group of Vietnamese and an African American. There is also a love interest.

We meet Willie  several years after he has divorced his wife as he takes on yet another temp job at hideously low wages. The beginning of the book grabbed me with a horrific accident in a bakery. A man loses his hand. Willie helps him and they become friends. George is just one of the threads that weaves together to make this story. Lawyers take the stage and offer Willie a job if he’ll give a statement that will make it look like George was high on drugs and therefore culpable for the accident. The book shows us how difficult it is to make the moral decision when you’re owing 40,000 on credit card. George continues to raise moral issues for Willie and adds a lot of tension of the ‘will he get caught’ variety.

Then there is Alice, the sculptor, who adds a bit of spice to Willie’s life, and Mary, Willie’s Buddhist nun daughter who returns from 3 years in a monastery. She and her teacher, Iron Ma, provide a light metaphysical thread and the question of whether or not Willie might get back together with his wife is another story strand.

This books raises your awareness of and empathy for those who bear the brunt of the economic collapse in the USA , but it doesn’t have one strong story arc, rather several strands of fairly ordinary happenings that together keep you reading.

This isn’t a book for those who demand a lot of action or a gripping plot. It doesn’t build up to a climax, rather it just keeps trucking along, as life does.  Nevertheless, the author manages to write enough tension into fairly ordinary scenes to keep you reading, and he concludes if well by tying up the various threads, but suggesting that even this positive ending may not stay that way for long.

The book is well crafted and edited. There’s nothing extraneous in it. The copy editing is good and the prose is well written. The characters are all strong and I cared about Willie from early in the book, though I would have liked to have seen more obvious development in his character. I had a sense that he had come to accept his situation and be happier for it, but I think that could have been made more obvious.

It’s a good book for those who enjoy contemporary fiction with a social conscience. I give it 4 stars and a place on the Awesome Indies list.

I received it free in return for an honest review.

Rupee Millionaires

Rupee Millionaires
Author:
Published: October 8, 2013
Author's Twitter: @Wussyboy
When Frank teams up with Spud, he thinks he’s got it made. But what he’s made is a deal with the Devil.

5 Stars

 

“When Frank teams up with Spud to become the largest wholesaler of hippy-Hindi glad rags in the UK, and to fulfil their dream of becoming rupee millionaires, he thinks he’s got it made. But what he’s made is a deal with the Devil.

Dodgy Frank Kusy, born into poverty from immigrant parents, learns to live on his wits––first as an unwitting money collector for Ronnie Kray, later as a Buddhist trader in London’s St Martin’s-in-the-Fields market. Then he meets up with thuggish ‘Spud’ who is so good at scaring people, notably the Petrovs, two encroaching Russian gangsters, that he hires him on the spot as his business partner.

It’s a deal with the Devil. Spud is a loose cannon, liable to blow up at any moment. The two travel to India to become the largest wholesaler of hippy-Hindi glad rags in the UK, and to fulfil their dream of becoming rupee millionaires.

Along the way, they pick up a motley crew of kooky characters––Ram, a lovable, crutch-bound Rajasthani, George, an irascible American, Nick and Anna, a quirky Canadian couple, Susie, a Dagenham girl gone ‘native’, and Rose, the secret love of Ram’s life. These become the ‘Pushkar Posse’, a group of oddball traveler-entrepreneurs who meet once a year to have fun and make money in equal measure.”

MY THOUGHTS:

This is a book about a young man called Frank, who travels to India in an effort to try and find himself.  He ends up also finding a trade, which starts out well, until he teams up with Spud.  The story follows Frank through the ensuing decade, with the reader walking his journey by his side.  The understory is one in which he is seeking the approval of his loving Hungarian mother, and until he feels he has this he can’t really accept himself.  Kusy’s style of writing is relaxed and chatty, and as a result the reading experience rather feels like that achieved from sitting down next to Frank and having a friendly and entertaining cuppa.  What is perhaps most amazing about this book is the fact that it’s based on truth, which for me makes it even richer and funnier than it would have been had it been pure fiction.  Kusy’s powers of description are superlative, and his story will have you laughing out loud and shaking your head most of the way through the book.  This book is aimed at the adult reader, has a gentle pace and is a very entertaining read.  It’s a mix of travel book, memoir and comedy all rolled into one.

THE STRUCTURE:

The book is approximately 222 pages in length, and if you have the leisure I can guarantee you’ll finish it in one sitting.  The editing and proof reading have been done to the highest of standards, so much so that I only made 9 highlights throughout the whole book – a first for me as a reviewer.  Each chapter is named, rather well I might say, reflecting accurately, and often humorously, what is contained therein.  The narrative is written from Frank’s point of view throughout, and the writing style is clear, informative and engaging.

SUMMARY:

If you like comedies, travelogues and/or memoirs then you’ll love this book.  The charm and richness of India is portrayed beautifully, and together with some great characters, surprising twists and emotional moments, this is a truly enjoyable read.  This book is about self-searching, faith, hope, love and friendship – it is also about the depths of foolishness we human beings can reach with all of our quirks and foibles.  This story is so much more than a mere memoir or travelogue.  I cannot recommend this book highly enough, and give it a resounding 5 stars.