Arrow in the Blue

Arrow in the Blue

"Arrow In The Blue: The First Volume Of An Autobiography, 1905-31" (1952) is a book by Arthur Koestler. It is about his life from his birth until he joined the Communist Party. "The Invisible Writing" is its sequel.

The title stems from the idea that if in theory, one could fire an arrow into the sky, it could carry on indefinitely (if it were not for gravity and atmospheric friction).

Early childhood

The first section deals with his family and early childhood.

Koestler was born in 1905, as Kösztler Artur (Hungarians put the surname first), in Budapest, Hungary to a German-speaking Hungarian family of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, and "Arrow in the Blue" discusses his life in Budapest, and many topics from the local political situation (the Austro-Hungarian Empire was disintegrating at this point) to Hungarian football team loyalties. His father, Henrik, was an eccentric industrialist and inventor whose business ideas revealed flawed judgement; for example, he invested in the manufacture of a kind of radioactive soap.

The operation

Koestler describes an early childhood experience that provides an insight into his decision to take his own life many years later.

As a child he was taken by his parents on unexpected outing. The destination turned out to be a dentist's practice, he was strapped into a chair and operated on without anesthetic whilst restrained in a chair with leather straps. This brutal experience left a profound mark in his psyche.

A few years later he was ill in bed with a pain in his abdomen. A doctor visited him at home and after examining him made a light-hearted comment that he would have to cut him open. The young Koestler detected some seriousness in the doctors voice, in fact he was diagnosed with appendicitis.

He was later driven in an ambulance to the hospital certain he was about to die. At the hospital he was anesthetised with chloroform. This was terrifying as the mask was forcibly held over his mouth and nose and the loss of consciousness was accompanied by a feeling of asphyxiation.

Following the operation an infection set in and he was scheduled for a follow-up procedure. He dreaded each day as the date of the operation drew near, his fear a fixation on the chloroform mask he would need to endure.

At this time he read a Baron Münchhausen fable; the Baron in the Bog. In this story the Baron rides into a bog and sinks on his mount up to his head. Despite his efforts he cannot escape the cloying mud. At the last moment he reaches out of the bog, grasps the top of his head and lifts himself and his horse to firm ground.

This inspires Koestler who speaks to his mother to arrange that he may apply the chloroform mask rather than have it administered. This banishes the fear for him and he is able to face up to the operation.

Later childhood and early adulthood

When Artur was 14, his family moved to Vienna, Austria. Koestler studied science and psychology at the University of Vienna, where he became involved in Zionism.

After completing his studies, he worked as a news correspondent.

From 1926 to 1929 he lived in the British Mandate of Palestine, partly in a "kibbutz", (which he also fictionalised in "Thieves in the Night" (1946), several years before "Arrow in the Blue"). Some commentators, such as David Cesarani, have claimed that in this book Koestler played down his Zionist convictions.

"Arrow in the Blue" finishes in 1931), in which year Koestler was a member of a zeppelin expedition to the North Pole, and joined the German Communist Party. His subsequent career, up to the early 1950s, is dealt with in "The Invisible Writing".


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