HIGHWAYS TO A WAR by Christopher J. Koch


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A desperate tale of love and heroism, set mostly in Cambodia during the rise of the Khmer Rouge, from the Australian author of the novel and classic independent film The Year of Living Dangerously (1979). As the story opens in 1976, Mike Langford, a Tasmanian photojournalist whose war coverage has become internationally famous, is reported dead inside Cambodia. Almost simultaneously, back in peaceful Tasmania, Langford's oldest friend -- known here only as Ray -- receives a collection of tapes that Langford recorded over the years, an ""audio diary"" chronicling his career from his apprentice days in Singapore through his coverage of the Vietnam War and the Cambodian civil war that followed. Using the tapes, Ray tells his old friend's story, letting the tale fall into the third person even as he flies to Thailand to find out what happened. We never learn of Langford's fate with certainty, however, since Koch opts to transform him into a mythical figure, an eternal soldier. Part of Langford's tragedy is that in midlife he at last finds a woman he deeply loves, but she, like everything else that might have addressed the sorrow that he has borne since his terrible childhood, will be taken from him. She is Cambodian and opposes the Khmer Rouge; Langford probably perishes trying to extract her from danger. Also figuring prominently is Langford's Chinese friend Jim Feng, who reveres Langford for his fearlessness and honesty. Koch's Australian perspective is illuminating and fresh throughout, but his best scenes are inside Cambodia, as Langford tries to get the word out about the Khmer Rouge holocaust at a time when most Western journalists are in denial. The evocation of the Cambodian landscape, strewn with bodies, is truly haunting. Koch's complicated point of view seems mechanical at times, but on the whole he's given us an absorbing, deeply moving story.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0140247572
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Viking