What Westerners Have for Breakfast Synopsis:
In the mid-eighties John McBeath and his partner Sue left Australia for India with the dream to open a European-style pensione in an old Portuguese villa in Goa. After several visits to India they had realised that Goa with its European influences, pristine beaches, and laid-back tropical lifestyle was at the start of a tourism boom.
Now told for the first time, this is the alluring true story of what happened: of the locals, expatriates and visitors they befriended, of the colourful, hilarious and sometimes confounding experiences that both enriched and threatened their relationship. Goa rises up from these pages as a seductive and richly rewarding place to live, but jazz writer McBeath isn’t afraid to lay bare the realities. The result is magical: a warm, poignant and bitter-sweet portrait of five unforgettable years. (TransitLounge)
BOOK REVIEW by Tony Ziemek
Like many people I am easily sucked in by an unconventional lifestyle story. This includes any story of dissipation such as Keith Richard’s autobiography Life or anything escapist, slightly twee and as dated as Keith, like Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence (1989! I feel old). For me the stylishly interesting thing about Peter Mayle is that he made a lot of money with a series of books about a cartoon penis (Wicked Willie, if you were curious. No, me neither.) and with the money went off to Provence to write a series of books describing the fantastic time he was having, which earned him much more money. From us. And we weren’t having a fantastic time. Personally, I am in awe. Genius.
I was inspired to take this trip down Jealousy Lane by the sub-title of What Westerners Have for Breakfast: Five Years in Goa.
Mr. McBeath has written a warm and apparently honest account of his time in Goa as he and his partner attempt a different way of living that is free of too much soul-searching and if anyone found themselves, I was thankfully unaware of it.
The characters he describes are not larded with excessive eccentricity and the reveling in ‘I’m on a white sand beach and you’re on the bus to work’ is kept to a minimum. In fact, I thought images of Goa were a little understated, whereas other aspects such as the suffocating feel of the monsoon are alive on the page. I think Mr. McBeath was just avoiding too many references to coconut palms nodding against azure skies, to be fair.
Characters and events are also vividly recalled. Similarly, the account of his personal relationship appears unrevised and unembellished, which must be a difficult achievement. The Indian people are not patronised but their idiosyncrasies cannot be ignored and this is celebrated in the book’s title. India’s fascinating preserved-in-aspic variant of the English language is also celebrated as a source of fascination and gentle amusement.
I enjoyed What Westerners Have for Breakfast: Five Years in Goa and you will too if you like vicarious travel and lives that beg to differ.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5
~ Tony Ziemek is the lead editor of Ed Fresh Editorial Services.
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Genre: Non-fiction, Memoir
Author Information: John McBeath was born in New Zealand and came to Australia so long ago that he arrived by ship. A freelance writer, John lives with his wife Mary overlooking the Gulf of St Vincent in Adelaide. For the past ten years he has been a music critic for The Australian and Advertiser newspapers. He has won national prizes for music and travel writing, and enjoyed a life of daedalian variety. Returning after five years in India John managed community radio stations in Cairns and then Alice Springs where he met Mary. The pair moved to Adelaide, in 1996, where they set up a small wholesale business importing coffee beans from Laos. They sold the business after ten years, and since then, John, semi-retired, has concentrated on writing.
Read an interview John did with Australian Writer’s Centre.
* Receiving this title free from Transit Lounge did not impact the expression of honest opinions in the review above.