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Christopher Koch, ‘Year of Living Dangerously’ Author, Dies at 81

Christopher Koch, an Australian author whose 1978 novel The Year of Living Dangerously was the basis of the atmospheric, award-winning film about intrigue in Indonesia, died Sept. 23 in Hobart, Tasmania. He was 81.

He had cancer, according to Australian news reports. His agent, Margaret Connolly, confirmed his death to news agencies.

Koch (pronounced “Kosh”) published two novels and worked in radio before embarking on The Year of Living Dangerously. The novel, which takes place during a political uprising in Indonesia in 1965, was well received when it was published. But The Year of Living Dangerously captured international attention only after it was made into a film by Australian director Peter Weir in 1982.

The memorable title, first uttered by Indonesian leader Sukarno in the 1960s, became a catchphrase denoting any prolonged period of danger, intrigue or personal risk.

The book and film trace the experiences of Guy Hamilton, an Australian foreign correspondent (played onscreen by Mel Gibson), as he tries to understand the mysterious forces at work in Indonesia when a rebellion threatens to remove Sukarno from power. Hamilton’s character was drawn from the experiences of Koch’s brother, Philip Koch, a foreign correspondent based in Jakarta in the 1960s.

Hamilton has a romance with a woman working for the British military (played in the movie by Sigourney Weaver) and is guided through the intricacies of the local culture by a Chinese-Australian television cameraman.

“There’s a definite point where a city, like a man, can be seen to have become insane,” Koch wrote in the novel. “This had finally happened to Jakarta.”

When the novel was published, it was compared favorably to the fiction of Graham Greene. Novelist Anthony Burgess wrote in the Times Literary Supplement of Britain that the book was “intelligent, compassionate, flavoursome, convincing, and well constructed.”

Nonetheless, Koch — who published seven other novels — had mixed feelings about being identified so strongly with just one of them.

“If a book is made into a film, they hang it around your neck forever,” he told the Weekend Australian newspaper last year. “I’ve written other books since that I think might be better, but people always come back to that one, and it’s because it was a film. That’s how much film dominates our culture.”

Koch was credited as a co-writer of the film’s screenplay, but he had a dispute with Weir during the making of the movie.

“All I could tell him was that I was going to attempt to make this into a good film,” Weir told The New York Times in 1983. “He took that for doubt or uncertainty on my part, whereas it was really just being honest.”

Their sharpest disagreement, however, came over what turned out to be one of Weir’s most inspired choices. The movie was weeks away from production before Weir discovered the 4-foot-9 American actress Linda Hunt. He cast her in the pivotal role of Kwan, the cameraman .