Bernard Otterman's
Self-Deliverance:

The Death and Life of Arthur Koestler

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“Koestler was as well known in London as Jean-Paul Sartre was in Paris. He was the author of many essays, memoirs, and novels, including Darkness at Noon, judged by many to be one of the most important books of the twentieth century. He had also penned The God That Failed, a memoir of Communist faith and disillusion. Critics claimed that Spanish Testament, his description of the Civil War in Spain and his imprisonment there, ranked with the war reportage of George Orwell. Later in his life, shortly before becoming prime minister, Margret Thatcher requested that Koestler pay her a visit. Rumor has it she requested his blessing.” – Self-Deliverance excerpt

So why did he and his wife commit double-suicide one March evening in 1983?Award winning short-story writer and poet Bernard Otterman takes readers on an exploration of life, death, love, and lust as he explores what happened one fateful night 32 years ago to one of the most controversial thinkers of the mid-20th century. Otterman’s illuminating novel, Self-Deliverance: The Death and Life of Arthur Koestler, fictionalizes how an investigation into thesuicidesof the prolific author, journalist and political activist Arthur Koestler, and his wife Cynthia, would haveunfolded. It also dramatizes the most important elements related to life’s moving forces: love and passion.

At the heart of the book is a love story, not just of Arthur and his much-younger wife, but of the lead investigator Jack, who’s in a long and increasingly loveless marriage, and Kristie, a world-class ballerina and estranged daughter of Arthur Koestler. Rita, the assisting investigator, and Frankel, a journalist looking into the double-suicide, also develop a passionate, yet combustible, affair.

Otterman’s work taps into the heart of loneliness, isolation, and the pitfalls of marriage. His book is not so much one of romance, but of the mind games that unfold for the participants. Sex, love, and intimacy take on new meanings as the Koestler investigation deepens—and the role love plays in life and death is unearthed.

His insightful book raises many questions, including:

  • Why would a healthy, wealthy, attractive 55-year-old end her own life?
  • Did an aging, ailing man that some saw as a selfish misogynist, bully his wife into suicide or kill her outright?
  • Are there limits to how far marriage can bring two people together?
  • At what cost should one follow through on their longings for another?
  • Are we meant to be with just one person?
  • How should we handle our aging days and confront end-of-life questions, including the use of suicide?

The author uses his book as a platform to examine, and both praise and question the highlights of a man’s life that included some extraordinary feats. Koestler, a journalist, prolific author, political activist, and an explorer of a far-ranging list of topics, from sexuality to ESP, is best remembered for his anti-Communist manifesto, Darkest at Noon.A Jew who escaped the Holocaust, Koestler was also an adamant Zionist in his youth and an outspoken critic of fascism and Communism. A man of many causes, he campaigned against capital punishment and championed a group that supported euthanasia. But the 20th century philosopher was also saddled with baggage, accused of being a sexist, an adulterer, and an absent father. Otterman’s book provides an honest look at a man who had heroic characteristics and human flaws.

Otterman, himself a writer and child Holocaust survivor, uses different vehicles to solve the mystery of the real life Koestler suicides, including diary excerpts, suicide notes, media accounts, and witness testimonies. The reader follows the investigation as it gets complicated by the love and affairs developed between the book’s characters. In fact, the investigators seem to come to really know Koestler through the prism of their new conquests. As they examine Koestler’s world, they place their own relationships under a microscope.

The author’s anatomy of love is filled with numerous insights into the nature of what drives many of us, and as we come to learn about a fascinating figure like Arthur Koestler, we also discover important truths about our own selves.

Publication Data: Self-Deliverance: The Death and Life of Arthur Koestler by Bernard Otterman; Published by Liber Novus Press (September 2015); 344 pages; $13.95; ISBN: 978-0-9906747-1-9
Contact Information: Media Connect

Brian Feinblum 212-583-2718  brian.feinblum@finnpartners.com
 
 

About Bernard Otterman

 

Self-Deliverance: The Death and Life of Arthur Koestler is Bernard Otterman’s debut novel.  This bold work of historical fiction examines the life of 20th century writer Arthur Koestler – and his simultaneous suicide with his much younger wife Cynthia.

His award-winning short stories and poems have appeared in New Millennium Writings, Word/Slovo Poetry, and Jewish Currents, among other magazines and journals.And he has presented his work in lectures and discussions at universities and bookstores across the United States and Australia.

Otterman, born in Poland, is a child Holocaust survivor. His prior writings, including Inmate 1818 and Other Stories (Liber Novus Press 2014), examine history’s darkest hour—the Holocaust.The Jewish Daily Forward said: “Otterman’s willingness to engage creatively with the metaphysical questions raised by the Holocaust should be applauded.” For Martha Rhodes, Founding Editor and Director of Four Way Books, Otterman’s “observant narrators see the world, as it is, surreal, yes, otherworldly, unbearable, and somehow wry.”

At the age of three, he and his parents escaped Lodz, Poland, and fled to Warsaw by moving from ghetto to ghetto, only to be interned in several labor camps. Separated from his father, Otterman and his mother escaped the train line headed for Auschwitz, fled and hid for six months as fugitives in the Polish countryside until Russian troops liberated Poland in January 1945. His father was first sent by train to Auschwitz, then immediately moved to a work camp in Germany. He also survived, and the family was reunited in Lodz in September 1945 through displaced persons listings posted by the Red Cross. They lived in Germany until coming to the United States in 1951.

Ottermanearned a PhD in natural sciences and served on the engineering faculties at Northeastern and Hofstra Universities.He resides in Old Westbury, New York, and more information can be found at www.bernardotterman.com.

 

 
 
 

Q & A for Self-Deliverance

Q. Bernard, what inspired you to write Self-Deliverance: The Death and Life of Arthur Koestler?

A. For a long time I wanted to write a novel at whose center would be a love story. This is difficult to do without falling and drowning in a sea of sentiment. Finally, it occurred to me that if I combined a real life situation where love played a critical role and build around it a fictional world, I could in the latter expand on the concept of love and show its many varieties by having my characters in different love situations. Moreover, the fictional characters, by having their own love problems, would create a love mystery of their own, whose outcome would be of interest to the reader. However, my characters would be grounded by trying to solve the mystery of what really happened in the real world, namely the double suicide of Arthur and Cynthia Koestler. Hopefully, by utilizing this dual approach the reader would stay interested, as well as experience a wider view of love and suicide than is usually presented.

Q. Your historical novel revolves around examining the life and death of Arthur Koestler, a well-known author. Who was he -- and what about his death fascinates you? ?

A. Arthur Koestler was a journalist and an author of many essays, memoirs, and novels, including Darkness at Noon, judged by some to be among oneof the most important books of the twentieth century. Critics claimed that Spanish Testament, his description of the Civil War in Spain and his imprisonment there, ranked with the war reportage of George Orwell of this war. It’s not his death, but his life which fascinates me. For me, he exemplifies the life of a Jewish intellectual in Europe, one generation ahead of mine. Yet, strangely, his life journey has many elements similar to my own. These include: youthful interest and commitment to Zionism, coping and surviving the Holocaust, interest in science, and making an effort to add to the intellectual discourse through writing. I found these similarities fascinating and instructive.

Q. Due to age and illness, it was understandable that Koestler wanted to kill himself, but yet, it is still an act we have trouble reconciling. You, as a Holocaust survivor, probably treasure the will to live above all else, right?

A. Arthur Koestler approached suicide from a philosophical and human rights point of view. At the age of 64, he joined the British Euthanasia Society. Its goal was to facilitate suicide by those who wanted to die in order to avoid senility or prolonged suffering from a terminal illness. A few years later, he wrote a pamphlet for the Society thatgave practical advice to its members on how to commit suicide. As a child Holocaust survivor, I view suicide differently. In Auschwitz and in other death camps an insignificant number of inmates “took the fence.” That is, very few committed suicide by impaling themselves on the electrified barbed wire. The vast majority of inmates “kept living in hope” for some miracle to occur, which would save them. To a degree, in Koestler’s time, and certainly today, it’s possible to die with dignity even when terminally ill. I believe one must never give up on life.

Q. So even if we accept why he ended his life, why did his wife, more than 20 years younger than him—and in good health—kill herself?

A. This is the central mystery of this novel. The mystery quickly resolves into two possibilities. Either she had not intended to kill herself and was tricked or forced by Arthur to do it, or she acted out of her own volition and had decided to die with Arthur because she could not live without him. In that case it was love, and other psychological problems, that motivated her to commit suicide. Certainly, there had been, and continue to be, other such instances, including suicide “epidemics,” where love makes the unthinkable desirable.

Q. What did you find challenging—and useful—by using a real-life incident and historical figure to tell a story about love, sex, and marriage?

A. Since my intention was to perform an autopsy on love in order to determine its anatomy, I needed an actual life situation in which love made a significant difference, perhaps even a life-death difference, in the lives of the individuals. As often happens, serendipity played a role because at that time I started to read a biography of Arthur Koestler. I found his personal life having all the elements that were likely to appear in my autopsy of love.  He had an unusually strong sex drive, was married three times, and had a very personal concept of love, punctuated by duplicity. Thus he represented a highly unusual human specimen, an outlier, from which a contemplation of love could benefit.

Q. Your book takes place in 1983, the year Koestler died and his death was investigated. What do readers need to know about the social mores of relationships and women in the world back then? 

A. In 1983 the feminist movement, following the cultural revolution of the 60’s, was pushing ahead, with the first issue of Ms Magazine having been published in 1972. But it was still a generation away from what it is today. Equal pay and equal representation in the workforce, including on corporate boards, had not yet reached public and court support. The novel—while it is supportive of feminism by praising the abilities of both Rita and Melissa, the latter as teacher of autistic children—pays greater attention to the problem of class, particularly in the case of Rita who speaks with a mild cockney accent, and Jack’s satisfaction of marrying Melissa and thus moving into a higher societal class.

Q. Jack, the lead investigator into Koestler’s death in the novel, was looking to resolve his love troubles. He found comfort in researching what Freud, poets and thinkers said about love. What does Jack believe marital love is supposed to be? 

A. The main story line of the novel is the question whether Cynthia acted out of her own volition in deciding to commit suicide. The other main story line is the journey that Jack undertakes to resolve his love troubles. The book describes his feelings and thoughts aboutlove, including marital love, from the time of his youth, through middle age, to the present book time of 1983. This is followed, in his time, by the onset of old age to which he is not willing to yield. His affair with Christie and the testosterone injections are symptomatic of this refusal and affect his understanding of love, in particular, his love for his wife, Melissa. In his final understanding of love, he realizes that his initial attraction to Melissa was typical of young love, and his ultimate understanding of marital love is based on the character of his partner, the family they have created, and shared history of their good life.

Q. Why is Koestler’s wife Cynthia, as described by Rita, who is also investigating his death, as someone having feelings that weren’t “love,” but a pathological and slavish devotion, the type of devotion that an obedient dog feels for his “master?”

A.   Rita is a professional woman of the kind one would encounter today in a public investigators office. Although not highly educated, she achieved her position by using her street smarts and physical courage. Her lifestyle is also that of a modern single woman and not typical of a single woman of a generation ago in England. Although her outward attitude towards love is highly critical and borders on outright rejection, her true inner feelings, as reflected by her attempt to save her relationship with Thomas, are typical of a woman to whom love matters. However, her acceptance of love, as for most of us, has its limits. Arthur and Cynthia met in 1949. By the time of their deaths they had known each other for 35 years. She watched as he went through two marriages and dozens of affairs, some of which were one-night stands. His most crowded sex life was after the death of his second wife, when his affair with Christie’s mother was in full swing, but in her absence he spent his nights with Cynthia. This was followed by his “harem” period.  According to his biographer, David Cesarani, these women were all younger than Arthur, insecure and emotionally dependent, “at some point in their lives they had been scarred by sorrow, and it showed.” Thus, these women were easy to intimidate and control. Arthur’s behavior and domination was known to Cynthia and in spite of it, and without assurances from him that he would change, she married him. Rita, and most other women, would not tolerate this kind of behavior; consequently, she labeled the acceptance of Cynthia’s feelings as slavish.

Q. Why did Rita fall for Frankel, a culture and arts reporter investigating his death?

A. Rita did not “fall” for Frankel, who is single and younger than her. For her it was an affair of convenience, but Frankel did fall for Rita. He was blown away by her beauty, sexiness, and spirited independence. Rita enjoyed the relationship because Frankel was someone who she expected to be helpful in her investigation of the suicide. Confident of his attractiveness to women and lonely, Frankel pursued Rita. She entered the relationship because Frankel was different, a Jewish intellectual, in the vein of Koestler. He was familiar, but not an expert on Koestler life and writings. Nevertheless, she expected that he would be helpful in her investigation of the suicides. And given his eagerness for her, Rita thought she could control him and his report. In the end, in spite of his love for her, Frankel refused to compromise his integrity.

Q. Rita also shared her bed with Thomas, an American pilot for United Airlines. Does she represent a woman who can have sex but not be in love, nor be in a committed relationship?

A. Yes and no.  Rita is not promiscuous in the way that Arthur was.  When opportunity arose, he would gladly pursue and engage in a one night stand. Rita needed more than a sexual attraction to the man, and needed some degree of wooing before she would have sex with him. She was attracted to Thomas, not only by his manliness, but also by his air of recklessness, which sweptoff him in waves. Once she got to know Thomas, she liked him very much, but would not let herself fall in love with him because he was married and had two children. Since Thomas was a pilot, their time being together—although full of pleasure—was intermittent.  This gave Rita a chance to have an affair with Frankel, which she thought would only be temporary.

Q. What role does guilt play in the decisions that any of your book’s characters make?

A. Strange as that may be, the feeling of guilt plays a role in only one of my six main characters, namely Jack.  He has been married for more than twenty years, has a faithful and caring wife Melissa, and a talented daughter. Only after finding himself deep into his affair with Christie he begins to feel guilty. Guilt makes him hesitate and interferes with his sexual drive. Arthur Koestler most certainly did not feel guilty. He allowed or encouraged Cynthia to commit suicide with him.

Q. Koestler was interested in ESP and parapsychology. Why?

A. No one knows for certain. His friends speculated that with great advances occurring in science in the late sixties and seventies, particularly in physics, Koestler thought he could make a lasting scientific contribution in the area of ESP. At great expense, he conducted levitation experiments in the basement of his house. He searched for a substance thattransmitted thoughts, and thus would explain the existence of coincidences. He considered the latter to have played a significant role in his life. His friends were very disappointed that the bulk of his and Cynthia’s estates were left for parapsychological research and not for some other literary or cultural purpose. To this very day, Koestler’s reputation rests on his journalistic and literary work, and not on his parapsychological musings.

Q. Was Koestler spiritual or believe in life after death?

A. In his suicide note, Koestler wrote about having an “Oceanic Feeling” of life after death. And in 1976 he co-authored a book titled, Life after Death. I have not read this book, but in it he speculated on afterlife. It’s my guess that term “Oceanic Feeling” originated there.

Q. If he were alive today, living with Parkinson’s and Leukemia, would he still have killed himself, or would medicine and science have made an extended life with less pain possible?

A. It’s very difficult to speculate on what Koestler would do and not do. However, in my opinion, Koestler was an egotist (a term which is not much heard today, but was frequently used by my mother.) It refers to extreme selfishness. My guess is that he would find appealing medication that would control his pain, as well as minimize his fatigue, which was his major complaint. As a confirmed egotist, a part of him desperately wanted to remain on the scene. But as a control freak, he was going to decide when and how to end his life.

Q. Your book muses on marriage. On one hand, we see marriage as a bond that strengthens the love between two people, but on the other hand, isn’t it a prison that chains two people who no longer share a passionate love?

A. In most countries divorce is available. Therefore, it is not true that marriage is a prison. Moreover, marriages undergo different stages. In marriages of young and middle age people, passionate love is likely to be the initial most significant feeling. As the marriage matures and is subject to life’s common traumas, commitment to each other, particularly when one partner needs help, becomes essential. In literature this is termed compassionate love. In Jack’s and Melissa’s marriage, trauma arrives early as represented in the form of Melissa’s miscarriages and is a threat to their marriage. She knows that this is very upsetting to Jack and redoubles her effort not only to bear children but also to strengthen their marriage.

Q. What can be done to help people cope with the loss of a loved one and not resort to suicide?

A. Suicide takes place for many different reasons. In the case of severe depression, it takes place because the person is no longer able to cope with the pain and sense of helplessness. For a spouse whose loved one has died, the best prevention and preparation is the unequivocal instructions of the dying spouse to keep on living and remain useful to herself, and if children are involved, to her immediate and extended family. Unless the death is sudden, the entire family should become involved in the treatment of the sick spouse, and help the surviving spouse.  The latter, as a member of the team, is unlikely to commit suicide upon the occurrence of death.

Q. Why don’t we see more Romeo and Juliet type cases of double suicide from older married couples? 

A. In marriages that have lasted a long time, when one partner dies, it is rare for the surviving partner to commit suicide. When it does happen, the event is almost always reported in the newspapers. Consequently, the double suicide of Arthur and Cynthia Koestler was big news. Not only because of Arthur’s fame and notoriety, but for the reason stated above. Older couples, in general, are clear about the love for each other and have many surviving obligations to their children, and in some cases to their grandchildren. Arthur and Cynthia Koestler had no children because Arthur did not want to form a family and forced Cynthia to get abortions. Arthur in his euthanasia pamphlet stated, “Suicidal thoughts are particularly likely after death of a spouse.  Some people seem better able to cope with the loss of companionship than others.” Clearly, what Koestler had in mind was couple’s with families who were more likely to survive the shock which comes with death of a spouse. Young adults are likely to exhibit the Romeo and Juliet syndrome, more often, because they have not yet formed their own families, while older married couples with children are deterred.

Q. Do you fear talking about a suicide in your book in some way glamorizes it – or the notion that love is worth dying for?

A. In my book I hope to show that love is commitment between the living, which does not end for the surviving partner when the other one dies. Suicide by the surviving partner, assuming that she/he is in reasonable good health, diminishes love. In the case of Arthur Koestler, the suicide of Cynthia diminished his reputation and put in question his love and commitment to her. In addition, it diminished her reputation and placed her among weak and emotionally dependent women of Arthur’s “harem” days. Consequently, the novel does not in any way glamorize suicide.

Q. Your novel shows – and speaks of – how sex and love can be separated. Or can they? 

A. You don’t read my novel to learn that love and sex have can be separated. Even the bible speaks about, but does not condemn, prostitution. The latter is a clear example of this separation. A more thoughtful answer, however, demands a definition of what is meant by both love and sex. The latter has at least three components: hormone driven sex, reproductive driven sex, and love or intimacy driven sex. In the first two instances, sex is separated from love. If one defines love as a deep emotional need, a longing, a sense of completion of self by the other person, sex is an act of intimacy, which is an essential component of love.

Q. The definition of marriage seems to be evolving. Is it an institution that will be with us for centuries to come? 

A. In countries of the Middle East and India, I think the institution of marriage is likely to last for centuries. In the USA, where change takes place rapidly, I’m willing to guess that this institution will be with us at least till the end of this century. Thereafter, biological discoveries and advances are likely to bring about significant change. At present, in spite of the high divorce rate, the institution of marriage is growing as evidenced by the strong push of gay and lesbian couples for this institution. Marriage has many dimensions: most significant being a sign of love that two people have for each other and a willingness to assume a total personal commitment to each other. Incidentally, Arthur Koestler, until his late sixties, was unwilling or unable to keep such commitment to Cynthia. But others who form a family unit through marriage and have children are likely to want marriage. I’m certain that for centuries to come, a family and a home will remain the only optimum place where children can be reared.

 


Book Reviews

“An earnest…debut novel of ideas. This historical why-dunit…carries some real emotional weight.”
--Kirkus Reviews

“Self-Deliverance is a novel that touches upon the historical and fictional/imaginative lives of its fascinating characters. Otterman writes with authority and elegance and this book has it all—desire, love, illness, intrigue, loss. Yet nothing here is gratuitous. The prose is descriptive and lovingly wrought.”
-- Martha Rhodes, Founding Editor and Director of Four Way Books

“Bernard Otterman’s Self-Deliverance is a thoughtful, sensual, and emotionally probing exploration of the relationship of violence and love…If Midnight’s Children had been written by Chekhov it might well resemble this book.”
-- Harold Braswell, Assistant Professor of Health Care Ethics, Saint Louis University