1932-1933 USSR

Koestler arrived in USSR in 1932, at the peak of the famine that in those years was claiming millions of victims. The shock was only in part absorbed by his political faith and by the hope that things would get better.

The bazaar of Kharkov was one of those scenes one imagines one could paint from memory, even after twenty years. Officially, these men and women were all kulaks who had been expropriated as a punitive measure. In reality, as I was gradually to find out, they were ordinary peasants who had been forced to abandon their villages in the famine-stricken regions. In last year's harvest-collecting campaign the local Party officials, anxious to deliver their quota, had confiscated not only the harvest but also the seed reserves, and the newly established collective farms had nothing to sow with. Their cattle and poultry they had killed rather than surrender it to the kolkhoz; so when the last grain of the secret hoard was eaten, they left the land which no longer was theirs. Entire villages had been abandoned, whole districts depopulated; in addition to the five million kulaks officially deported to Siberia, several million more were on the move. They choked the railway stations, crammed the freight trains, squatted in the markets and public squares, and died in the streets; I have never seen so many and such hurried funerals as during that winter in Kharkov.

He completed his book, that should have been published by several publishing houses of the USSR, but at the end the text he worked out was judged "too frivolous" by the Soviet publishers. As a result, the book was mutilated by censorship and was only published in German by the Soviet Publishing House for the German National Minority (Von Weissen Nachten und roten Tagen, Kharkov 1933). This was Koestler's first book, but bibliophiles are warned that it is practically impossible to find anywhere. Koestler himself found out that the book was published only when an American traveller in USSR found a copy by chance and mailed it to him.
Despite all the suffering that he was to witness, he got through his travel in USSR and Central Asia without losing his confidence. His mood was nevertheless that of an almost constant depression, made worst by the fact that during his stay in the USSR the Nazis got to the power in Germany, making his return there impossible.
Koestler required an exit visa from USSR, and after long waiting he was sent to Paris to work for the Comintern propaganda organisation. In the train taking him away from USSR he typed the first version of The Twilight Bar. He stopped on the to road to visit his parents, Wien and Budapest. and in 1933 he arrived in Paris