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The Boston Globe

Obituaries

Christopher Koch, wrote ‘Year of Living Dangerously’; at 81

Mr. Koch’s book initially received little attention.

Jerry Bauer/Viking Press

Mr. Koch’s book initially received little attention.

NEW YORK — 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 on Monday in Hobart, Australia. He was 81.

The cause was cancer, said his agent, Margaret Connolly.

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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. (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 Hamilton’s romantic interest, and Linda Hunt, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of Hamilton’s male cameraman and mentor, Billy Kwan.

The book initially received little attention outside Australia, but the film heightened Mr. Koch’s 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 to its increasing engagement with Asia.

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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 honor.

Christopher John Koch was born in Hobart, on the southern Australian island of Tasmania. His father, Burton, an accountant, and his mother, Phyllis, were concerned when he dropped out of school and was later reprimanded for reading too much while working in a bookstore. He later 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.

He leaves his wife, Robin; a son, the classical guitarist Gareth Koch, from an earlier marriage that ended in divorce; his brother, Philip; and a sister, Susan.

He published his first novel, “The Boys in the Island,” in 1958, which helped him win a creative writing fellowship to Stanford a few years later. The book was a coming-of-age story about a young man growing up in Tasmania but dreaming of moving to the mainland.

Mr. Koch and the characters in many of his books frequently migrated between Tasmania and the rest of the world. In Mr. Koch’s case, he moved back and forth to Sydney several times before he settled in Tasmania in the town of Richmond, outside Hobart.

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