Hans Koning, 85; world traveler wrote fiction, nonfiction

Times Staff Writer

Hans Koning, the journalist and author of politically charged books whose best-known works include the novel “A Walk With Love and Death” and the nonfiction “Columbus: His Enterprise: Exploding the Myth,” has died. He was 85.

Koning died April 13 at his home in Easton, Conn., after a brief illness, his agent Michele Rubin said this week.

The family did not give the cause.

At the start of his career in the late 1950s, Koning wrote under his birth name, Koningsberger, but shortened it in 1972, mainly because the longer version was often misspelled, he said.


A world traveler who lived in German-occupied Netherlands for two years during World War II, Koning set many of his novels in oppressive societies ruled by war-hungry leaders.

Often, his heroes are “dreamy-eyed revolutionaries on the verge of throwing a bomb,” according to a 1983 Village Voice article.

Several of his novels were made into movies, including “A Walk With Love and Death,” published in 1961. Koning co-wrote the screenplay for the film version, directed by John Huston in 1969.

Several of his novels received mixed reviews. His “Pursuit of a Woman on the Hinge of History” is “a tiny parable about the forces of good ... battling the corrupt titans,” Richard Eder wrote in a 1997 review in the Los Angeles Times. The result is “a contrived and inflated epic,” Eder wrote.


Koning once explained why he wrote fiction. “If you want to write a serious novel, you should not only be out to entertain but you should also, in a hidden way, reflect on the world’s justice and injustice, hope and illusion,” he wrote in a 2000 essay for the New York Times.

He was a frequent contributor to newspapers and magazines.

His nonfiction book “Columbus” concentrates on “the greed, cruelty and treachery of the conquistadors,” according to a generally positive critique in the New York Review of Books in 1976.

It was reprinted in 1991, in time for the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America.


Although he considered himself primarily a novelist, Koning wrote more nonfiction books.

A number of them are about his travels in the Netherlands, Russia, Egypt and elsewhere. Travel with him as the guide meant avoiding the tourist sites and staying in out-of-the-way places, reviewers noted.

His “Love and Hate in China” is a “sensitive and intelligent” example of “personal travel writing in the grand tradition,” according to a review in the New York Times.

Koning was born in Amsterdam on July 12, 1921. During World War II he escaped to England, where he joined the British Liberation Army.


After the war he became the editor of a Dutch weekly newspaper and also worked as a radio host in Jakarta, Indonesia, before he traveled to the U.S. on a Dutch freighter in 1951.

He settled in New York City and became a U.S. citizen in 1978.

Koning was married three times. He is survived by his wife, Katherine; their two children; and two children from previous marriages.