HIGHWAYS TO A WAR

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. (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: June 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-670-86155-3

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1995

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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