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Scum of the Earth [Paperback]

Arthur Koestler
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Review

A powerful and moving story. -- Charles Osbourne, The Sunday Telegraph

By far the best book to come out of the collapse of France. -- The Guardian

Koestler’s personal history of France at war…is, I think, the finest book that has come out of that cauldron. -- The New York Herald Tribune

Some of the finest reportage of the century. -- Adam LeBor, The Literary Review

This is a book in a thousand. -- Byron Rogers, The Standard

About the Author

Arthur Koestler was born in Budapest in 1905, son of Henrik Koestler, industrialist and inventor. He was educated at the University of Vienna where he became involved in the Zionist movement, travelling to Palestine in 1926 where he worked as a farm labourer and as Jerusalem correspondent for a number of German newspapers.
Koestler was a member of the German Communist party until 1938, but left during Stalin’s purges. He fought on the side of the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, was captured by Franco’s forces and sentenced to death, a sentence averted by the intervention of the British Foreign Office. He was interned in France at the start of the Second World War, but escaped to England where he worked for the BBC, becoming a British citizen in 1945.
Koestler had several books published in the thirties but made his international breakthrough with Darkness at Noon (1940) a novel set during Stalin’s reign of terror. He went on to produce many other works of fiction, autobiography, on Communism, science, philosophy, the drug culture and Eastern spiritualism. Arthur Koestler died in 1983, taking his own life in the face of terminal illness. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

I was sitting in the bathtub when they rang at my door on October 22nd, 1939. The char had not yet arrived; I thought it was the postman and called out that he should wait a minute. They yelled back: ‘Hurry up. Here is the police’. But the idea that they would come for me at night was so fixed in my mind that I thought it was some harmless black-out business or driving offence. I girded my loins with a towel and went barefoot to the entrance door, thinking how the char would grumble at the traces of my wet feet on the parquet floor. When I had unlocked the door, it sprang open and I was flung back by the impact of the two sturdy men leaning against it. ‘Have you a gun on you?’ they asked. But, considering my dress, the question seemed rather pointless and they pushed their way to the sitting-room. After a quick glance round, they discovered that this was not a proletarian dwelling and, obedient to their conditioned reflexes as French policemen, their tone became more civil at once.

‘I am afraid you have to come with us to the police station,’ said the less sturdy of the two. He had bristling hair, pimples on his face, and his name was, as I learned a few minutes later, M. Petetin, Fernand. ‘Never mind, it is only for a verification of identity or something.’ ‘May I dress in the bathroom?’ ‘Certainly, said M. Petetin, settling down in an arm-chair and glancing at a bottle of corn brandy on the cupboard. ‘I reckon that you have no firearms and no subversive literature in your flat, so we may as well save ourselves the trouble of a search.’ ‘As you like’, I said. ‘Make yourselves at home. This is a corn brandy I always get at Mme. Denise’s shop on the rue de Vaugirard. It is cheap and guaranteed fifty degrees. But there are only a few bottles left.’

‘I rarely drink so early in the morning,’ said Petetin while I filled his glass and his companion’s, and one for myself. ‘A votre sante, monsieur.’

While I finished dressing in the bathroom, G, living in the flat above mine, turned up in a dressing-gown, as if she had smelled the danger. ‘Who is this?’ asked Petetin, becoming professional again. ‘Miss G, a British subject. Her father is in the diplomatic service’. ‘How do you do?’ said Petetin in English, flushing with pride. ‘My name is Monsieur Petetin, Fernand. I am sorry I have to take this gentleman away, but he will certainly be back again soon. You had better take a blanket,’ he added to me. ‘The formalities may take a few days.’

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