Highways to a War
Christopher J Koch
"'Pick any highway, I was told: all of them go to the war.' For three combat photographers, friendship, comradeship and love are intensified to an ultimate degree by a decade of covering war in Indo-China, a decade which culminates in the fall of Saigon.
"Highways to a War is the story of a search - a search for Mike Langford, a war photographer with a reputation for risk-taking, who disappears inside Cambodia after its fall to the Khmer Rouge. It explores the personal highways that have led Langford to war, and to his ultimate fate. By nature drawn to lost causes, he gives his emotional allegiance to the badly-led South Vietnamese and Cambodian troops whose dangers he shares. His obsession with their plight drives him to eventually to putting down the camera and picking up the gun; and his love for Ly Keang, a young Cambodian, leads him into a fateful commitment to her country's struggle. Missing, but perhaps still alive, Langford exerts a fascination over everyone who knows him, and his contemporaries invest this essentially ordinary, country-bred Australian with the qualities of a hero from myth.
"Koch also depicts a wartime Indo-China which itself seems semi-mythical: deceptively tranquil paddy fields of the Vietnam delta, where the figures of the Viet Cong appear like black ghosts; the pink and cream city of Phnom Penh, locked in a long colonial dream - a dream that will turn to nightmare.
"With his new novel, Highways to a War, Christopher Koch, author of The Year of Living Dangerously, establishes himself as one of the most important Australian writers of the last thirty years."
In April 1976, my friend Michael Langford disappeared inside Cambodia. Twelve months earlier the Khmer Rouge had taken power, erasing the past and restarting the world from the beginning. We were now at the end of Year Zero.
Langford was forty years old, and at the height of his reputation as a war photographer. He'd first left Australia at the age of twenty-nine, and had spent the rest of his life in Asia. Now, it seemed, Asia had swallowed him.
The story was carried by the international media on the evening of Thursday, April 8th. I got it in advance from Rex Lockhart, who phoned me from the Launceston Courier in midafternoon.
‘Mike Langford’s missing,’ he said. His tone made it sound like my responsibility; but Lockhart was like that. I asked him for details, but he didn’t want to given them on the phone.
‘We’ll be running it tomorrow morning,’ he said. ‘But I think we should discuss this tonight. Come over for dinner.’
From the William Heineman Australia hardback edition, 1996.
This novel won the Miles Franklin Award in 1996.
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Last modified: January 26, 2006.