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Highways to a War

(Beware of the Past #1)

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  514 ratings  ·  49 reviews
In a riveting new novel of wartime Cambodia and Vietnam--part thriller, part mystery, part heroic epic--the author of The Year of Living Dangerously offers the story of a likeable, brave, but ultimately mysterious war photographer who has disappeared into the jungles of Cambodia.
Paperback, 496 pages
Published June 1st 1996 by Penguin Books (first published 1995)
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Average rating 4.26  · 
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 ·  514 ratings  ·  49 reviews

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Christopher Lane
Nov 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 a ...more
May 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
A book that leaves me shaking and crying is rare.
Paul Cornelius
Update 11 April 2019: reread this novel for the second time in less than a year. It still stands apart, a strong rendering of a very personalized look at the wars in Southeast Asia during the Sixties and Seventies.


Imaginative, this book about a quest to discover the fate of Mike Langford, an Australian journalist who has disappeared into Cambodia after the fall of the country to the Khmer Rouge in 1975. Told through multiple points of view, Highways to a War operates a bit lik
Adam Piore
Sep 19, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who likes books about Cambodia or the Vietnam war
Extremely well written book that comes closest to evoking the sensuous magic of Southeast Asia as any book I have read in recent months. It also captures the lure of danger and promise of adventure that drew war correspondents to the area throughout the Vietnam War.

The author is Christopher j. Koch, the guy who wrote 'The Year of Living Dangerously," which became a movie with Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver about reporting in Indonesia.

Highways to a War centers on a swashbuckling Australian War
Lesley Moseley
Aug 30, 2017 rated it liked it
3 1/2 stars.. Too much detail of the battles fought, for my taste, even though they are well written and YES it is a war novel. However, such realism, rhythm and well-paced writing, it was really enjoyable.
Aug 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This an excellent novel by a venerable Australian author, Christopher Koch, probably best known for his novel set in Jakarta in 1965, The Year of Living Dangerously, filmed by Peter Weir and starring Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver. In Highways to a War, Koch returns to South East Asia, and the great conflagration which engulfed Indochina between 1965-1975. The hero of the story is Mike Langford, a Tasmanian (like the author himself) who travels to South East Asia in 1965 to make his name as a n ...more
Mar 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: australian
This is the third of (the late) Christopher Koch's novels I've now read, and he is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. 'Highways to a War' covers similar ground to 'The Year of Living Dangerously', both being fictional examinations of recent political situations in South East Asia, seen through the eyes of foreign correspondents and photographers, but for me this was even better than the earlier book. A superb examination of what leads a person or a country to war, of what makes someone w ...more
Richard Gullickson
Aug 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is the one of the best novels based on the Vietnam War and the war in Cambodia that I have read. It’s written as an account of the life of a fictional war photojournalist, Mike Langford, an Aussie hops (yes, the grain used to brew beer) farm boy, who disappears inside Cambodia. It provides a fascinating account of political issues, the life of a war correspondence, the hazards of covering military conflicts from the front lines. I especially appreciate the respectful and loving treatment of ...more
Bronwen Heathfield
Oct 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I found this book exciting and beautiful. The depiction of South East Asia in the 60s and 70s was fascinating. Recent history that you think you are familiar with but still much to learn. Well written characters, lots of tension and evocative descriptions of colonial cities and asian countryside. A war novel but much more than that. If you have ever been to Vietnam or Cambodia or met someone from either country you should read it.
Emi Bevacqua
Jun 02, 2007 rated it liked it
This was super depressing from the opening on. I liked the descriptions of wartime in Southeast Asia (super evocative), but even though the main characters were mostly likable and quite righteous, I had trouble keeping many of the secondary characters straight and I just didn't like the way so many of them were introduced but then went away without factoring in to the plot... meh. ...more
Aug 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
His descriptions of Tasmania are sublime, his portrait of his main character and the events are riveting. I immediately borrowed the biography of Neil Davies, on whom his main character is based - One Crowded Hour by Tim Bowden which is also amazing.
Highways to a War is absolutely incredible. This is now one of my favourite novels. The world is so vivid and feels real. The characters have so much depth. This novel conveys the hopelessness and wonder of war, and it is gripping from beginning to the end.
Forgotten I had read this one. Excellent. Mine has a different cover. It was this book that led me to Koch's writing. His epic "Out of Ireland" is terrific = highly recommended. ...more
David Winger
Sep 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Possibly an ever better book than the more famous 'Year of Living Dangerously'. Criminally underrated. ...more
Jun 09, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very readable historical novel that focuses upon the Vietnam War and, more predominantly, the conflict in Cambodia. It has a cinematic scope, a vivid sense of time & place, and is concerned with the search for a missing Australian photojournalist, Mike Langford.

The seedier back streets of Singapore, Saigon and Phenom Penh are contrasted with the seasonal descriptions of rural Cambodia & Vietnam in the midst of war. As I live in Darwin, the writer perfectly conveys the suffocating humidity, the
Maggie Lynne
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When Mike Langford, a war photographer with a reputation for unusual risk-taking, disappears inside Cambodia, he becomes a mythic figure in the minds of his friends. Ray Barton travels to war-ravaged Southeast Asia to search for his missing friend. The search for him, which is at the heart of this novel, explores the personal highways that led him to war, and to his ultimate fate. (Publisher review)

This is a convincing and gripping story of profound relationships forged in a dangerous land, betw
Simon Bate
Jul 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
If you have travelled or wish to travel around parts of SE Asia and are interested in the turbulent history of that part of the world this could be a book for you.The main character, Mike Langford, seems to be based largely on the life of the Australian photographer Neil Davis and sees him involved in the Vietnam war (or the American War if you happen to be Vietnamese !) and the turmoil of the Pol Pot/Khmer Rouge years in Cambodia.I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Flavio Rasà
Mar 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is intense!
The story is written in the first person, that makes you feel involved, that makes you cry!
Janice Hull
An interesting read about the Vietnam war and insight into the camera men who photographed the war. Although fictional clearly the story hangs on the story of Neil davis.
Richard Marshall
.One of the better books of the Vietnam war; some parts warm and human ,some parts chilling and despairing. An exceptional story.
Jen Crichton
Feb 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I read this book whilst travelling in Vietnam and absolutely loved it. It is the fictional account of a real-life Australian wartime photographer during the Vietnam War and is so heart breaking at times, but also incredibly moving and interesting.
karl levy
Jun 07, 2016 rated it liked it
This book gets it seems either rave reviews at 5 stars or 2 or 3 stars for disappointing. From the famous Australia Author Christopher Koch of The Year of Living Dangerously fame it is loosely based novelization around the life of the Australian Combat photographer Neil Davis, his life captured as a biography in One Crowded Hour. This is what creates the divergence in reviews. Koch's connection is that he came from Tasmania and knew him. Its interesting that this novelization was created as One ...more
Jul 08, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
I have a 50-page rule, where I've given myself permission to abandon a book that doesn't grab me within 50 pages. This book is making me think I need a two-week rule.

I've abandoned this at page 128. I loved The Year of Living Dangerously and sought this out because I wanted to read something else by this author. But it's I pick it up, read a bit, set it down, then have no desire to pick it up again. I force myself, read 75 pages at a go to see if I can get lost in it, set it do
Kristian Brockmann
Sep 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
A study from university days when some of my research was on the manufacture of Agent Orange, and a family friend was a photo journalist who endured the Vietnam conflict in his own way, surviving the front line and living to tell stories through photography. An old neighbour of ours was a veteran, heroically saving a chopper from danger, although both of these characters in our lives have played the last post. The story is a good one, of glory and excitement and yes, adventure too, the dramas of ...more
Dec 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
After hearing recently that Christopher Koch had passed away, I thought it would be fitting to re-read my favourite Koch novel 'Highways to a War'. The slow start had me worried and I thought for a moment that it would be one of those books which get elevated to 'classic 'status by a nostalgic mind, but that actually fail the standards of a critical eye. I shouldn't have worried: by the time the story reached Vietnam I was utterly captivated by 60's and 70's South East Asia and the slowly unfold ...more
Donna R
May 05, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: period, australia, war, asia
On the final day of the Save the Children annual book fair a box of books will set you back $7. This is one out of my box, I picked it without reading the dust jacket thinking it looked like a memoir and interesting to boot.
What a gem! To this point, if everything I've read or watched about Vietnam/Cambodia was placed on a set of scales there would be an over representation of American military novels, movies etc. On the other side and stuck up in the air was "The Killing Fields", and now the
Feb 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This was the kind of book I used to dismiss as a man's book; but I really enjoyed it. I remember all the news reports on the Vietnam War when I was growing up - it seemed to go on for ever and I never really understood much of what was going on. . This was a good introduction and I'm now reading another Vietnam war book A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan. ...more
This book is a fictionalized, novelistic account of the life and death of the award-winning Australian war photographer, Neil Brian Davis. The book is fairly interseting in places, evocative - though not nearly as taut as The Year of Living Dangerously.

I would have read the rest of it if I had nothing else to do, but I got somewhat bored and so decided to move on.
Jerry Peace
Apr 16, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A treasure of surfeit- heroism and cowardice, supreme arrogance and humility, greed and giving away, corruption and the scary purity of fanaticism, love and indifference and.... I was going to say "truth," but in this book about Vietnam and Cambodia during the sixties' and their fall in the seventies', perhaps the only truth of this life is death. ...more
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Christopher 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 YE ...more

Other books in the series

Beware of the Past (2 books)
  • Out of Ireland

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