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.
Reviewed by Awesome Indies Assessor
September 8, 2014
‘Follow The Joy’ is a true story of what happened when, at 27, Jason Kurtz bought a one-way ticket to India and let intuition be his guide. He studied meditation, taught English to Tibetan monks, and volunteered at the Mother Theresa Homes for the Destitute and Dying. He learnt to live day to day, be open to unexpected possibilities and ultimately to follow his joy.
The thing that is immediately and wonderfully apparent in this memoir is that the author knows how to write well. This book is a pleasure to read. The author skilfully teases out the theme of how to live a compassionate life and imbues it with the kind of tension we expect in a novel. We share Jason’s hopes and fears, and his struggles with the reality of life for a foreigner in India and with his own insecurities. India comes alive on the pages of this book, and the story itself reflects the extremes of spiritual peace and bustling activity of India itself. This ultimately spiritual journey builds to the point where Jason finds himself holding the hand of a dying man in one of the Mother Theresa Homes. The whole section of Jason’s experiences in the Homes is highly moving.
I could talk about how well-drawn Jason is, and how alive are the other characters; I could talk about how good the prose it, how well described the settings, and how well-constructed the story is, or I can simply say that I cannot fault this book. It is, quite simply, an excellent example of a memoir.
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.
“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.”
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 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.
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.