One of my favourite novels focusing on the war in Indochina is Christopher Koch's Highways To A War, which a year or two ago was in development as a possible movie, but it hasn't happened as far as I know. Published as long ago as 1995, it was reviewed by the eminent Milton Osborne for The New York Times on 30 August 1995. Rather than my personal review, suffice to say I gobbled it up, especially as it was so closely entwined with Cambodia, here's Milton's opinion.
Highways To A War by Christopher J. Koch. 451 pages. Viking.
Reviewed by Milton Osborne.
It is appropriate that the publication of
Christopher Koch's new novel, Highways to a War, should take place in
1995, a year during which attention has been focused on the Communist
victory in Vietnam 20 years ago. For the book is a notable literary
reflection on the war. Koch has long been regarded as one of Australia's
finest writers, praised for his sensitive use of language and meticulous
attention to detail, whether in describing his homeland or, as in his
earlier novel, The Year of Living Dangerously, settings in Indonesia
and other parts of Asia. These qualities are abundantly apparent in
this, his fourth novel. The book tells the story of Mike Langford, a photo
journalist who bears some resemblance to Neil Davis, the legendary
Australian cameraman who survived the wars in Vietnam and Cambodia only
to be killed in a failed coup in Bangkok in 1985. Like Davis, Langford
seems impervious to danger and concerned to show the war as it was
fought by local, as opposed to foreign, troops. This commitment leads to one of the novel's most
rewarding features. Langford's association with South Vietnamese and
Cambodian government soldiers means that they emerge from the pages of
this book as characters who invite sympathy, rather than being, as so
often has been the case in other novels about the Indochina wars, mere
background against which foreigners play their dominant parts.
Nor is it only those fighting against the Communists
who are given humanity. In one gripping section of the book, Langford
and two journalist colleagues are held for a time by the North
Vietnamese. Captain Danh, who leads their captors, is shown as a man of
principle whose commitment happens to be to the other side. This is a novel that can be read at several levels.
It is a tale of courage in the face of danger. As a reflection on the
wars that ravaged Vietnam and Cambodia,Koch's book insistently reminds
us that few conflicts lend themselves to being analyzed in simple terms
of right and wrong. Victims can be found on both sides. But, above all, the book is rewarding because it
brings alive a world that increasingly large numbers of readers will
never have experienced and which others are beginning to forget. This is
the author's most striking achievement.
As we follow Langford from his farming boyhood in
the rural Australian state of Tasmania, through poverty in Singapore, to
increasing status as a journalist in Indochina, the sights and sounds
of his surroundings are vividly before us. Also vividly portrayed are
the men and women who live, work and fight there. For those of us who knew Phnom Penh and Saigon
before 1975, the descriptions Koch provides are achingly familiar, as are
the scenes set in lush, yet harsh, environment of the Cambodian and
Vietnamese countryside. In introducing his book, the author writes that Highways to War is "one of a related pair: a diptych." With the
success of the current novel, readers will eagerly wait for Koch's next
Labels: Christopher Koch, Highways To A War, Milton Osborne