Smokey Joe’s Cafe – Bryce Courtenay

As The Power of One is one of my all time favourite books it has been my goal to read more of Bryce Courtenay’s novels. Smokey Joe’s Cafe is in an entirely different vein to my original favourite.


This story is set in Australia post the Vietnam War and centres around Thommo, a survivor of the Battle of Long Tan. Thommo has tried to settle back into civilian life with his wife and daughter running Smokey Joe’s, his wife’s family business. Unfortunately settling back into his previous life proves difficult with PTSD, health problems and finally his daughter being diagnosed with leukaemia. The plot follows Thommo’s struggle for recognition and justice for him, his daughter and all those affected by the outcome of the Vietnam War, in particular the residual effects of Agent Orange.


Any preconceptions of where the storyline was headed were quickly dashed. This book was not what I was expecting and I certainly wasn’t disappointed! Thommo and his mates, “the Dirty Dozen” come up with their own gung ho plans to get even with the system and save Anna, Thommo’s daughter. These plans were well beyond what I was ever expecting and I enjoyed the  twists in the plot line immensely. Coupled with that was that the story written by Courtenay in an incredibly ocker accent. It’s not often you come across prose written in such a way and it made me laugh seeing words such as boofhead and drongo crop up during the story.


There are many novels around currently that are set during World War II, many of which are remarkable stories (such as The Book Thief and All The Light We Cannot See) so I  found it refreshing reading a novel focused on the Vietnam War. This is a large part of our recent history and I appreciated reading about the war that everyone wanted to forget. This is a story that all young Australians could benefit from reading to gain a little more understanding of our short history.


Smokey Joe’s was an enjoyable read, with great insight to the Vietnam War. I give it three and a half of Thommo’s famous burgers.


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