The Last Photograph by Emma Chapman is published by Pan Macmillan Australia, RRP $29.99.
The Last Photograph by Emma Chapman is published by Pan Macmillan Australia, RRP $29.99.

BOOKS: Photojournalist seeks redemption 50 years after war

REVIEW: WE MEET former photojournalist Rook Henderson just after the death of his wife June. Unable to deal with the loss, Rook emails his son the bad news and boards a plane to Vietnam.

His behaviour is inexplicable - almost callous - until we understand he's actually returning to the scene of his first heartbreak.

Rook's not been to Vietnam for nearly 50 years and finds the country much changed. We learn - however - it's not really the place he's revisiting... but his memories, and a chance to right past wrongs.

Author Emma Chapman cleverly flits backward and forward in time. As an elderly Rook arrives in Ho Chi Minh City we're taken back to 1961, when he and June were newlyweds, arriving in London full of hopes and dreams.

Two years pass however before the talented photographer's offered his big break with the Sunday Times in Saigon.

Once there, Rook meets other journalists and quickly makes a name for himself, viewing and recording history through the lens of his camera.

His work in Vietnam makes Rook feel alive in a way he struggles to explain to June during his trips home and he remains there for five years until forced home by a tragedy.

Once back in England however, Rook's demons persist, and he struggles to settle down with June and their son.

War features strongly in this novel and Chapman is - of course - able to write about the Vietnam War with the benefit of hindsight. She beautifully captures the chaotic life of journalists on the ground - collaborating and competing for the big story; and the fear and adrenaline that comes with risk and rewards.

This is an enchanting story of passion, loss, regret and redemption, told seamlessly across multiple time periods and with compassion and elegance.


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