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New theory suggests Soviet involvement in the death of Albert Camus

It’s a conspiracy theory worthy of Dan Brown, or perhaps early-career John le Carré. When the French Nobel laureate Albert Camus died in a car crash in 1960, everyone assumed it was an accident. Now, however, the Italian paper Corriere della Sera is suggesting that the crash may in fact have been the work of Soviet spies.

The supposition is that the spies responsible, perhaps agents of the notorious KGB, were operating under orders of Soviet authorities angered at Camus’ criticism of foreign minister Dmitri Trofimovic Shepilov’s use of the army to put down a Hungarian insurrection in 1956, and his support for author Boris Pasternak, whose novel Doctor Zhivago had been banned by Stalin.

The new theory about Camus’ death is the work of Italian scholar Giovanni Catelli. The Guardian reports:

[Catelli] noted that a passage in a diary written by the celebrated Czech poet and translator Jan Zábrana, and published as a book entitled Celý život, was missing from the Italian translation.

In the missing paragraph, Zábrana writes: “I heard something very strange from the mouth of a man who knew lots of things and had very informed sources. According to him, the accident that had cost Albert Camus his life in 1960 was organised by Soviet spies. They damaged a tyre on the car using a sophisticated piece of equipment that cut or made a hole in the wheel at speed.”

Hearing “something very strange from the mouth of a man who knew lots of things” is not exactly damning evidence, and indeed, Camus’ biographer, Oliver Todd, expresses skepticism about the new allegations.

My first reaction is that nothing about the activities of the KGB and its successors would surprise me, but this claim has left me flabbergasted. You have to ask yourself who would benefit from this coming out and why.

When Camus died, he had in his possession a return train ticket to Paris, and 144 pages of a manuscript entitled The First Man, which the author “had predicted would be his finest work.”