A month back I ran an excerpt from the late Arthur Koestler’s memoir in which he explained his attraction to Zionism as a young man in Vienna as stemming from his belief that Jews in Europe were a “sick race,” divorced from the land.
After I ran that piece, a friend pointed out to me that Koestler (1905-1983) was a fabulist. You just can’t believe much he said on a personal front.
But Koestler was a good storyteller and an important journalist and social thinker; so I have kept reading him in the face of the fabulism. And the following excerpt is from a Zionist novel called Thieves in the Night (1946), which is valuable for its descriptions of kibbutz life and the birth of the Stern gang.
The main character of the book is Joseph, a half-Jewish Englishman, who has come out to build the land in the late 1930s. And what is Joseph’s motivation?
Koestler relates a bedtime story that looms in Joseph’s mind as the “Incident,” an event he is too ashamed to disclose to others, but that has played a major influence on his life. At Oxford in the 1920s, Joseph fell in love with Lily, a pretty blonde divorcee five years his senior who has a fondness for fascists. Joseph and Lily got along famously till they went to a hunt ball and got drunk.
He had known Lily for almost two years, was humbly in love with her, had talked to her poetry, sex and eternity, and had never kissed her lips. After the ball, without transition, he became the lover for a wildly unreal and elusive hour, of a woman so completely transformed that he kept stammering her name aloud to convince herself of her identity. Then came the awakening and the crash. Even now, years later, he grew hot with humiliation at the thought of it. In her dark room she had switched the bedside lamp on to look for a cigarette. The sudden light had revealed their nudity, and with it the sign of the Covenant on his body, the stigma of the race incised into his flesh. The horror in her face made him at first think that she had discovered in him the symptoms of some repulsive disease; then, in a voice icy with contempt she had accused him of infamy and deception, cross-examined him about his ancestry, ordered him to get dressed and clear out of her room. At last the reason dawned on him.
I think this goes under the category of unbelievable sex scenes, or Zionist malarkey. But maybe I’m wrong?