Martin Amis on Christopher Hitchens: "Common Sense Was Not His Beat"

Categories: Books
Christopher Hitchens shirtless smoking.jpg
courtesy Vanity Fair
Christopher Hitchens as he came into the world
Next month will mark one year since the death of journalist, polemicist and bon vivant Christopher Hitchens. Though the loss of the Hitch has been hard for his legion fans who fed lustily on his dispatches from around the world, few could have felt it more deeply than his best friend Martin Amis and his widow, Carol Blue. On Saturday at the Miami Book Fair International, they were joined by Hitchens' editor at Twelve Books, Cary Goldstein, to lead a joyful remembrance of Hitchens's life and work.

Amis, who was also at the fair with his latest novel, Lionel Asbo: State of England, led off with a story about Hitchens tangling with some well-dressed "upper class hippies" as the two attempted to enjoy dinner in 1975.

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Hitchens and Amis 1975.jpg
courtesy Twelve Books
Hitchens and Amis in Cape Cod, 1975
"Christ!" Hitchens kept muttering as the hippies loudly made arrangements for a large party at what the two friends affectionately called "The Restaurant That's Only Big Enough for One Person." According to Amis, the hippies had "the air of young men who didn't work for living but were patiently waiting for the passing of elderly relatives."

It soon became clear that the hippies were going to ask Amis and Hitchens to vacate their seats. The hippies approached the table and one of them, "after a flirtatious pause, pouted through his fringe." This lead hippie spoke to Hitchens in a practiced way, as though this approach "had all gone like a dream before."

"You're going to hate us for this," the hippie said to Hitchens, "but -"

"We already do," Hitchens interrupted. The hippies scampered away and sent over "a terrified bottle of Valpolicella a half an hour later."

Hitchens in Iraq 1991.jpg
courtesy Twelve Books
Hitchens with Kurdish fighters in Iraq, 1991
Though in his final years he may have been best known for his touchstone of atheism, God is Not Great, his columns for Vanity Fair, or his memoir, Hitch 22, he maintained a long career as a foreign correspondent, finding angles on stories untouched by writers far less courageous than he.

"I could literally tell you 50 stories," Blue recalled. "The Romanian revolution, what was then called Zaire, when he was in war zones or tricky situations and nearly lost his life."

That boldness and keen eye came to play even when his cancer prevented him from travel.

"When he became ill," she continued, "he traveled to this 'land of malady,' as he put it, and reported on it as a foreign correspondent."

Amis remembered how Hitchens went to Afghanistan in the months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Hitchens stopped at an outdoor market to buy half a dozen t-shirts with Osama bin Laden's face on them for friends. Just then, a mosque door opened and Hitchens was surrounded by 500 angry zealots and what Hitchens told Amis was "a foul atmosphere of fanatical arousal."

"You like Osama bin Laden?" they asked Hitchens. Amis guessed he himself would have sheepishly said, "Well, I quite like him..." Not the Hitch. Instead, the reply came, "Osama bin Laden is my brother."

"Your brother?"

"All men are my brothers," Hitchens said. "Now, if you'll excuse me..."

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Damn.  Wish I had know this event was taking place, I would have driven down from Orlando to be there.  I would so enjoy hearing Carol and Martin tell stories about their history with Hitch in person.  It must have been a hard, sad year for both of them. 

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