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Scum of the Earth Hardcover – 1 Jun 1968


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 287 pages
  • Publisher: Hutchinson; Danube ed edition (Jun 1968)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0090872800
  • ISBN-13: 978-0090872800
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 172,311 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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94 of 96 people found the following review helpful By tom27307 on 4 Feb 2002
Format: Paperback
This is one of the strongest books I have ever read. It details Koestler's internment in France as an "undesirable alien" in the early part of the war, and then his struggle to keep out of the clutches of the Gestapo as the Germans march in and the country collapses in 1940.
It begins almost as travel writing, with Koestler and his girlfriend lazing around in pleasantly bohemian fashion on the Riviera, the increasing tension in 1939 Europe seemingly a million miles away. But back in Paris, Koestler is arrested by the increasingly paranoid French authorities and interned at Le Vernet along with a ragbag collection of other foreigners. Mostly leftists, intellectuals and Jews, they include Spanish Civil War veterans, Russian émigrés, German refugees and sundry unlucky Eastern European immigrants and petty criminals. His description of the people and the hardships encountered during his three months of internment with the dregs of the European Left stands comparison with any other prison camp autobiography, including One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. These are the beaten and bloody remnants of the once heroic International Brigades, betrayed by Stalin, by France and by each other -the titular Scum of the Earth.
The rest of the book follows Koestler through his release, his return to Paris, his attempts to leave for England legitimately, and his final chaotic escape through a disintegrating France. Again, the observations on the mentality of the French people and the French state faced with Hitler are incredibly acute and clear-eyed. However the most vivid feeling you take from the book is the hysterical fear, despair and disgust that grows on Koestler as the Nazis advance.
I'd recommend this book to everybody .
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By WALSHY on 10 Feb 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm aware that telling readers that before they dip into this book, they should read other works by the author, but to really understand Scum of the Earth properly, one has to read some more Koestler of this period. I apologise !

The background of Scum of the Earth is pure autobiography, with only some names changed for protection (including that of his then partner, the Englsh sculptress Daphne Hardy) To put it simply, Koestler was caught in France by the outbreak of war and, as a foreigner (a Hungarian national) and a known anti-Fascist, was promptly arrested and interned by the Daladier Government. He spent the first nine months of war mostly in a prison camp, then, during the collapse of France, escaped and travelled by devious routes to England. These included the remarkable device of enlisting in the French Foreign Legion on the very day of the French surrender, hoping to use his new status to piggy back to French North Africa.

But it is not just this simple. Koestler was known to the French (and to the government of many nations - including Nazi Germany) as a Communist, and a Communist who had taken part in both revolutionary activities and journalism - a dangerous combination.

Indeed, Koestler knew very well what his fate was to be if the German caught him, for some years before he had been imprisoned and sentenced to death as a spy by Franco's rebel Spanish administration, He had been caught 'bang to rights' as he had been using his cover as the British News Chronicle reporter in Nationalist Spain to spy on what was happening behind the lines - including gaining entree to Franco's own HQ - and then passing on the information gleaned directly to the Comintern in Moscow.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Stanley J Marut on 8 April 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have just rediscovered Koestler and I'm glad I did. Apart from reading the two volume autobiography, I read this in between. What started out as a browse before finishing my other Koestler volume, I found that I was unable to put this book down. Koestler is so eloquent and is a delight to read. His description of the fall of France in 1939/1940 as an alien is unbelieveable. It appears that foreigners in France at that time were treated abominably. Not only was this reportage of events in France at that sad time, it was also a highly readable adventure story.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 21 Mar 2002
Format: Paperback
..What lends this book its immediacy is that it was written, and published, while the war was still in progress and the good guys weren't winning; also that instead of the usual Nazis v (mainly) Jews, it is French v (mainly) leftists of all descriptions. But this doesn't convey the book's flavour. It's a human story, rich in resonances. Even if you don't read 'war books', ignore the rather off-putting title and get swept away! Then for a more soothing view of the tail-end of the war, read Love and War in the Appenines.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Hungarian born journalist, writer, sometime communist and anti nazi Arthur Koestler, charts the outbreak of the Second World War through his own experience. Because it was written before the end of WWII, without the benefit of hindsight or retrospection, it has a very different feel to other factual or biographic accounts from the same period. Koestler, along with other anti nazis communists and various persecuted groups from all over Europe, find themselves rounded up and interned by the French. Koestler, only by the most drawn out and unlikeliest of escapes, avoided the inevitable fate of many of these unfortunate prisoners and managed, eventually, to get to Britain. The story gets bogged down in parts with detailed accounts of the chaotic politics of the time and Kafka-like bureaucracy as the French establishment melts down in the months preceding invasion and the desperate confusion before final capitulation. Great if you are an historian of the period; slightly laborious if you are not (in parts). However, this does not detract from the sense of injustice conveyed, the prejudice encountered by these 'undesirables' at the hands of the French and I found myself educated by a writer who skilfully kept me engaged even through the most convoluted intricacies of European pre-war politics. Glad I read it. Might read it again.
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