Read Highways to a War by Christopher J. Koch Free Online
Book Title: Highways to a War|
The author of the book: Christopher J. Koch
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Reader ratings: 4.8
Edition: Random House Australia (Vintage)
Date of issue: July 3rd 1998
ISBN 13: 9781863305242
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 2.56 MB
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With the last leg of our travels taking us through the Indonchinese countries, I spied this book in Kuta and snatched it off the shelf. The story as summarised on the back of the cover told of Mike Langford a photo journalist who became lost in 1970s Khmer Rouge occupied Cambodia, probably dead, and it was left to his friend Ray to find out and if appropriate execute Mike's will and distribute his belongings. In the course of searching for Mike the reader finds thought Mike's own audio diaries and memos from friends, his whole story which takes him from an unfullfilled farm boy in Tasmania, Australia to a successful cameraman.
Highways to War, is so named as just prior to the fall of Phnom Penh, the civil war was so close and surrounded the city, journalists could take a taxi on any highway out of the city, take a look at the fighting and come back to The Royal Hotel to type it up. Mike's character (he is based on a couple of real photographers) is hard to fathom. He is a man of few words, but huge empathy. This is his undoing as going into the Indochinese wars, if only armed with a camera, empathy is only going to hold you back. He is also a determined character. With little savings he makes his way to Singapore and lives in self-imposed poverty waiting for a job and in the process almost dying of starvation. The luck he has is he finds friends with consulates and being strategically placed in Asia as the cold war became actual bullets. In the end dropping the neutrality of a camera and picking up a gun.
The story from the angle of Australians, gives a new insight into the war in Vietnam and Cambodia. This is not to bash the Americans (that has been done to death), but to bust the myth that the South Vietnamese Army were lazy and corrupt. Mike grew to love the actual people. While there was corruption in the SVA command, the troops were not and had it much worse than Americans. They fought not for ideology (the average SVA wouldn't know what communism/capitalism was), just for love of country. Mike became known as 'Lucky' for taking chances others wouldn't, but also for placing himself with the SVA for long walking tours, living and eating with the troops. Most journalists stayed safe with the Yanks, knowing they could report a quick battle but be back for gin a the hotel in Saigon that evening.
Mike and his close colleagues, who also tell their stories, find themselves placed at almost all the major parts of the Indochinese Wars. They walk the Ho Chi Ming Trail, find themselves in the underground tunnels of the Viet Cong. The author has to make a choice with history at the end and places the reporters at the fall of Saigon, at the expense of a the Khmer Rouge's mass clearance of Phnom Pehn. I would have preferred the other, but that would have meant a lot of conjecture as little was known in the west as to that event, Cambodia locked out the world. The other characters provide conversations and therefore debate on the morality of the struggles. The Count is a French citizen of Russian birth who's parents fled the Russian
Revolution, he argues eloquently against the tyranny of communism. Ian a Welsh BBC reporter uses his working class roots to argue that Vietnam is a war of liberation from feudal tyranny.
In both situations, Vietnam and Cambodia, you see the extremes of what communism threw out at the end of the Indochinese Wars. The North Vietnamese, being the victors, established themselves as working socialism which won not only the war but also a moral victory over the USA. Cambodia, however threw up the Khmer Rouge, a communist collective regime which commited some of the worlds worst autrocities.
Its hard to pull back and realise that the book is actually a fiction, but telling a story is sometimes the best way to understand the bigger picture. At the end it has no real message. No jury decision who was right and wrong in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in the 60s and 70s. The only message that hit home, was the one contribution Mike Langford made to a heated debate with The Count and an SVA officer on ideology. Asked for his opinion, he just stated the people should "just take care of each other".
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Read information about the authorChristopher Koch was born and educated in Tasmania. For a good deal of his life he was a broadcasting producer, working for the ABC in Sydney. He has lived and worked in London and elsewhere overseas. He has been a fulltime writer since 1972, winning international praise and a number of awards for his novels, many of which are translated in a number of European countries. One of his novels, The YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY, was made into a film by Peter Weir and was nominated for an Academy Award. He has twice won the Miles Franklin award for fiction: for THE DOUBLEMAN and HIGHWAYS TO A WAR. In 1995 Koch was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for his contribution to Australian literature.
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