Australian war photographer Mike Langford has just disappeared inside Cambodia as this intriguing novel opens in 1976. That country has been closed to all foreigners since the Khmer Rouge takeover, however, so when Langford doesn't emerge the general presumption is that he has been killed or taken prisoner. When the narrator, a boyhood friend, receives Langford's diary-on-tape, spanning 1965-1975, it sets off a series of reminiscences that offer indelible insights into the mind and heart of a remarkable individual who would dare infiltrate Communist Kampuchea against all odds. Readers will be touched by Langford's experiences in Indonesia (the setting of Koch's 1979 novel, The Year of Living Dangerously), Vietnam, and Cambodia. Highly recommended.
Christopher Koch is also the author of The Year of Living Dangerously (which takes place during the Sukarno years in Indonesia), which was made into one of my favorite movies. The themes in Highways to a War, altho about a group of reporters and photographers of the Vietnam, Cambodian, and Laotian civil war eras, overlap with those of the previous novel. It shows the profound transformation that happens to people who become expatriates as they immerse themselves in a foreign culture, as well as the effects of war. It is a longish book and (in my opinion) doesn't take off until the main character actually arrives in Asia, which is after about 60 pages of frame necessary to introduce the flashback to the main story. Then the adventure begins, and I was riveted until the end. The book is rich in characterization of fascinating characters and much information I didn't know about these wars. There are love and spy stories thrown in, but these are not dominant. This is a novel about how we grow when challenged by new ideas, complex moral choices and danger. Loved it.