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There's hardly a topic I did more often and more profoundly than emigration with my German students studying English at secondary grammar school. It ranges from the Pilgrim Fathers to the Irish Potato Famine to the Mexicans climbing over the fence into the US of A. The motives why people leave their home countries to settle somewhere else have always been the same. Either people are pushed out of their home countries because of unbearable living conditions or they're pulled by the promises of distant shores or they're simply adventurous. Often the motives are mixed.
Let's look at the protagonists of More Ketchup Than Salsa (an extraordinarily silly title). Joe and Joy's dreams haven't come true in England. Joe wanted to become a drummer, Joy an actress. Both were sure they'd be famous before reaching the age of 30. Now they're 28 years old and work on the fish market in Bolton. They've both resigned "towards that monotonous British lifestyle of school-job-pension-coffin".
But suddenly things change dramatically. Joe's step-father owns an apartment on Tenerife and acquires a pub-cum-restaurant there, too. He thinks of leasing and finally selling it to Joe, his brother David and their respective girl-friends. As none of the four starve in England, one can't say that they're pushed out of the country. They aren't pulled, either, however, because they know nothing about Tenerife besides its being 2000 miles away, having a lot of sunshine, Spanish speaking locals and a growing number of British ex-pats and holiday makers. They know zilch about cooking and running a pub or restaurant, but they take the plunge. They discover a spirit of adventure in themselves and a possibility to escape the everyday drudgery at home.
The story is told in the first person perspective. The author's first name is Joe, he is from Bolton and lives on Tenerife. The main protagonist's name is Joe, he is from Bolton and lives on Tenerife. Is More Ketchup Than Salsa an autobiographical account? No, I don't think so. Cawley may have worked some personal experiences into the story, but the first person perspective is mainly the old trick to avoid distance between the author and the reader and to draw them in more easily.
The story is an entertaining read which may put the occasional smile on the reader's face if they're so minded. LOL funny it is not, at least not for me. At times I had the impression of reading an assignment in the style of, "What did you do during your summer holidays?". Stylistically it's too simple for my liking. How Joe Cawley could become an award-winning travel writer is beyond me, but then a travel writer doesn't have to produce literature, do they? He seems to be suffering from compulsory wittiness. From his homepage, "I'm medically compelled to travel to alleviate sporadic bouts of island fever that leave me with a nasty rash and an uncontrollable urge to bellow obscenities at the top of my voice." If he 'entertains' his family with his wittiness on a daily basis, they'll be happy whenever he leaves to explore far-away destinations.
What leaves me dumbfounded is the fact that there are several grammatically wrong sentences of the type, "He talked to Joy and I" as well as misplaced apostrophes in the text. An author who doesn't know the grammar and spelling rules of his mother tongue? An editor who doesn't do their job? One star off for that. This covers also a woman's name which appears out of the blue and is never mentioned again.
I must admit that I didn't buy the book because I'm interested in how four inexperienced English people learn to run a pub-cum-restaurant abroad. I couldn't care less. The fact that the story is set on Tenerife, an island I've visited several times, didn't attract me, either. What caught my attention was the mention of the many British expats living there who provide the background for the story. I know that there are tens of thousands of British and German ex-pats on Tenerife. I don't know which community is more numerous. They're not alike but share certain characteristics. The British are more sociable in general and form friendships more easily than the Germans. That doesn't mean that they don't get the blues and suffer from loneliness and boredom as well. They do. (Of course, exceptions prove the rule).
I'm not talking about young people who emigrate and work in a foreign county, be it as publicans or owners of sweetshops or whatever. They're much too occupied with the challenges their new lives present to feel bored. I'm talking about retirees who've given up everything at home to rest and laze about in a sunny climate. The four publicans are flooded with offers to help, for no pay, just so that the oldies are able to do something and not feel completely useless. None of the characters presented in the novel can speak proper Spanish, they can't strike up friendships with the locals, not even communicate with them. They can only meet each other and stew in their own grease. Of course, they can't admit that living like this is hell, that would mean they'd have to admit to themselves that they've made the wrong decision.
Obviously, sunshine isn't everything. What do they do to keep despair at bay? They booze. This doesn't apply only to the retirees. What with no compulsory school attendance in GB, there are quite a lot of so-called resort children with the same probs. "In Tenerife, for non-Spanish speaking youngsters, nighttime diversions revolve around a British bar or at beach barbecues, both of which involve copious drinking no matter what the age." So the four English people profit from the problems of loners, losers, the flotsam of life? This is a negative way of looking at the situation. A positive one is to see their place as a social institution, a watering hole, a meeting-point, a stock exchange for news, a storeroom, a confessional, a health care centre for ex-pats.
When I'm mentioning booze, you could argue that the pot is calling the kettle black. Sadly, I have to admit that too much boozing is going on in Germany, too. But from what I read and hear from people who visit GB regularly things aren't as serious as in GB. What am I to make of the fact that a five star hotel on the Turkish Riviera doesn't offer all inclusive hols for British tourists because they mis-read the information that you 'can' drink alcohol from morning to night as you 'have to' drink? Even the Russians get all inclusive hols.
I've certainly not read the book the way the author intended it to be read. For me the minor characters are more interesting than the major ones. Three stars not for its literary quality, but because it set me thinking which is always a good thing.