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Darkness at Noon Reissue Edition
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Darkness at Noon is an authentic and chilling look at Stalin's Russia in the late 1930s. Arthur Koestler, formerly a member of the Communist Party, completed this superb historical fiction in Paris as WWII was just beginning. In a short forward he says that the characters in this book are fictitious, but that the historical circumstances which determined their actions are real. The life of the man N. S. Rubashov is a synthesis of the lives of a number of men that were victims of the so-called Moscow Trials. Several of them were personally known to the author. He dedicates this book to their memory.
Suffering from a toothache, subjected to endless interrogation, deprived of sleep, Rubashov struggles to delay his inevitable, final confession. He questions his own past and motivations. Was he unconsciously disloyal? Is he guilty? Does it matter whether he is guilty? Should he remain silent, argue, or simply capitulate?
Rubashov finds meaning in politics, history, and philosophy. We see him wrestling with the meaning of suffering, senseless suffering versus meaningful suffering. We sympathize with him as he questions the morality of betraying his life-long beliefs, despite his recognition that he himself has been betrayed. He clearly knows that he is guilty of betraying others. In his exhausted and muddled state, his motivation for living seems driven by a desire to explore more fully a new idea, the law of the relative maturity of the masses. He only needs time to sort out his questions and to resolve his doubts.
Koestler reveals much about Rubashov through flashbacks. We recognize that Rubashov's own ethics and morality were undermined as he participated in the destruction of well-meaning, loyal party members that unintentionally became guilty of political divergencies. He allowed his lover to be imprisoned, and even joined the chorus that condemned her. Nonetheless, Koestler persuades us to have sympathy for Rubashov, now a victim of his own ideology.
I was unfamiliar with Arthur Koestler and I was unprepared when I opened this little book. I was captivated as Rubashov gradually awoke from a disturbing dream of betrayal, only to discover that he was being awakened by the secret police. I carried Darkness at Noon to work and shared it with a colleague. His teenage son was the next reader. Darkness at Noon is a classic that you will share with others.
It is, perhaps, either a sad testament to human nature, or an indicia of the power of great literature, that the story of the fate of one (fictional) man, Rubashov, can feel more compelling than the narrative descriptions found in history texts such as Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsarand Stalin and His Hangmen: The Tyrant and Those Who Killed for Him of the fate of millions during the purges.
Further, whereas these works go a long way towards explaining what happened and how it happened, Rubashov's self-crticial analysis, and his dialogues with Ivanov and then Gletkin in Darkness at Noon go a long way toward explaining why the purges happened. It helps explain the mindset of those many, like Rubashov, who confessed their non-existent sins before their ineveitable demise. It also goes a long way to explaining why so many millions of people actively participated in the denunciations that accompanied the purges and show trials.
During the height of the proceedings against him during his Presidency, former President Clinton compared himself to Rubashov. Clinton's comparison to Rubashov is rich with unintended irony. Perhaps Clinton, like me, had not read the book since high school, and felt that Rubashov was the purely innocent victim of a prosecutorial system run amok. However, Koestler makes it clear that Rubashov was not merely a vicitim of Stalin, or Stalin's henchmen, but of the system that Rubashov (a hero of the revolution) himself played an important role in creating. Rubashov spent a life filled with deceit, manipulation, and even murder, on behalf of his party and its "core values". The doctrine of the end justifying the means was a cornersone of Rubashov's philosphy and morality. Whatever "core values" existed at the beginning of his revolutionary life with the party had long since withered to nothingness by the time of his imprisonment. Consequently, if President Clinton's comparison of himself to Rubashov was based upon the idea that Rubashov was a purely innocent victim, he is just wrong. To the extent Clinton was aware that Rubashov was in no small way responsible for creating the milieu under which this despicable actvity takes place - then he is more self-aware than I had previously given him credit for.
Finally, the book is just darn well-written. Of particular beauty and impact are Rubashov's dialogues with his interrogators.
Pick up this book and read it.