Arthur Koestler and his century

Louis Menand in The New Yorker:

ScreenHunter_07 Dec. 23 09.31 Arthur Koestler was arrested by Francisco Franco’s Nationalist forces in the city of Málaga on February 9, 1937. Koestler had come to Spain, in the midst of the Civil War, as a correspondent for a British paper called the News Chronicle, and although Málaga had been abandoned by Republican troops and most of its inhabitants several days earlier, and although the reporters Koestler was travelling with had fled, he had stayed behind. Why is not clear. Michael Scammell, in his compendious new biography, “Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic” (Random House; $35), suggests a number of possibilities: Koestler felt loyal to the acting British consul, Sir Peter Chalmers Mitchell, who had a house in the city and with whom he had become friendly; he was disgusted by the cowardice of the deserters and wanted to show bravery himself; he couldn’t face the thought of leaving his typewriter behind; and he hoped to get a really big scoop. These motives—loyalty, courage, obsessiveness, and ambition—are all plausible, because they are all characteristic of the man.

He paid a price. The officer who arrested him, Captain Luis Bolin, had sworn, based on things that Koestler had already published about the Franco insurgency, “to shoot K. like a mad dog” if he ever got hold of him. Koestler was taken first to the Málaga jailhouse, which was crammed with prisoners picked up in the city and the surrounding villages during the Fascist advance. From his cell he could hear men being escorted outside to be shot, sometimes fifty at a time. In the week following the fall of the city, six hundred prisoners were executed. After a few days, he was transferred to Seville, to a prison that had been built by the Republican government and was now in the hands of the Nationalists.

More here.