End of an unconventional Catholic writer

Christopher Koch

Catholic-educated, Tasmanian-born author, Christopher Koch believed in the existence of evil. He was a traditional storyteller whose books dealt with spirituality, illusion and reality, and cultural identity. This obituary appeared in The New York Times.

July 16, 1932 – September 23, 2013

- By William Yardley

Christopher Koch, who was widely regarded as one of Australia’s finest novelists and whose best-known book, The Year of Living Dangerously, became even better known as a film, died last month in Hobart, Australia. He was 81. The cause was cancer, said his agent, Margaret Connolly.

Guy Hamilton, the lead character of The Year of Living Dangerously, was loosely based on Mr Koch’s younger brother, Philip, a reporter for the Australian Broadcasting Commission who covered the violent decline of the regime of President Sukarno of Indonesia in the 1960s.

In Mr Koch’s narrative, Hamilton’s personal life and his work as a journalist become entangled with people whose identities and loyalties are slowly revealed to be more complicated than he expected — echoing the mystery with which many Australians regarded Asia and its political turbulence at the time.

The book was published in 1978. The film, whose screenplay Mr Koch (pronounced kosh) co-wrote, was released in 1982, with Mel Gibson in the starring role. (Mr Gibson’s tense signoffs to his radio dispatches — ‘This is Guy Hamilton in Jakarta’ — are remarkably similar to those of Philip Koch, some of which are available online.)

The film, directed by Peter Weir, also stars Sigourney Weaver, as a British spy and Mr Hamilton’s romantic interest, and Linda Hunt, who won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Hamilton’s male cameraman and mentor, Billy Kwan.

The book initially received little attention outside Australia, but the film’s success brought Mr Koch new acclaim, both at home and internationally. His work was often cited as helping Australia to shift its cultural focus from its Western ancestors in Britain and Ireland toward its increasing engagement with Asia.

Two of his later novels, The Doubleman, and Highways to a War, which was based loosely on the life of the Vietnam War photographer Neil Davis, won the Miles Franklin Award, Australia’s highest literary honour.

Christopher John Koch was born on July 16, 1932, in Hobart, on the southern Australian island of Tasmania. His father, Burton, an accountant, and his mother, Phyllis, were concerned about him when he dropped out of school and was later reprimanded for reading too much while working in a bookstore. He eventually graduated with honors from the University of Tasmania with degrees in English and philosophy.

He worked as a radio producer for the Australian Broadcasting Service in Sydney for many years before devoting himself full time to writing, starting in 1972…

Full obituary in The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/25/books/christopher-koch-writer-of-year-of-living-dangerously-dies-at-81.html?ref=obituaries

Appreciation in The Australian: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/books/koch-departs-a-giant-who-endured-burden-of-living-dangerously/story-e6frg8nf-1226725543279

Obituary in The Australian: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/features/restless-writers-journey/story-e6frg6z6-1226725527555#

Obituary in The Sydney Morning Herald: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/obituaries/christopher-koch-the-year-of-living-dangerously-author-opened-our-eyes-to-indonesia-20130924-2uatz.html

Obituary in Town and Country: http://www.townandcountrymagazine.com.au/story/395130/the-voice-of-generations-christopher-koch-dies-of-cancer/

Christopher Koch in conversation with Richard Fidler: http://www.abc.net.au/queensland/conversations/stories/s2111602.htm

Wikipedia on Christopher Koch: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Koch

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