Koestler: The Indispensable Intellectual

From The Telegraph:

Koestler_main_1581286f On the evening of March 1 1983, Arthur Koestler sat down opposite his wife Cynthia in their Knightsbridge sitting room, swallowed a handful of sleeping tablets washed down with brandy and wine, and waited to die. It was the end of an extraordinary journey that had taken him from the heart of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to British-occupied Palestine, Weimar Germany, the Spanish Civil War, the French Foreign Legion, George Orwell’s London and California at the height of flower power. To his admirers he was one of the greatest writers of the modern age, a brave, lonely man who had dared speak truth to power. And yet, even in death a shadow hung over him for, as Koestler’s friends were horrified to discover, Cynthia, then just 55 and in good health, had killed herself alongside him. As everyone knew, she was totally under her husband’s thumb, and their friend Julian Barnes was not alone in wondering: “Did he bully her into it?”

At once melodramatic, moving and disturbing, Koestler’s passing was typical of the man. Although he is best remembered today as the author of one of the 20th century’s most influential novels, Darkness at Noon, even he would surely have admitted that his own life story was too implausible for fiction. Born into a middle-class Jewish family in Budapest, he was a shy, nervous boy who shocked his parents by dropping out of university, converting to Zionism and disappearing to Palestine, where he tried (and failed) to join a kibbutz and eventually wangled a job as Middle Eastern correspondent for a German newspaper empire. By 1931, he was well regarded enough to be picked as the chain’s correspondent on board the Graf Zeppelin’s pioneering flight over the North Pole. And if his odyssey had ended there, it would make an entertainingly unlikely story.

More here.