Cover Image: Darkness at Noon

Darkness at Noon

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

A classic of the silent horrors of the Soviet regime. Not only does the topic fascinate but ostensible novelized first-person accounts don't get any more gripping.
Was this review helpful?
I received a free electronic copy of this novel from Netgalley, Descendents of Arthur Koestler and the University of Edinburgh, and Scribner.  Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me.  I have read Darkness at Noon of my own volition, and this review reflects my honest, personal opinion of this work.  I am pleased to recommend this novel to friends and family. I urge everyone to read this work and then VOTE!

I had a vague concept of the movements of Stalinism, Fascism, Communism, Trotskyism, Socialism and how they affected the lives and times of Europeans in the twentieth century.  I could never understand WHY the proponents of these social movements were willing to be cleansed, as it were when that ideology evolved into that of another social concept.  Arthur Koestler explains it, very well.  

This book was originally published in 1940, an anti-totalitarian work perhaps based on the life and persecution of Bolshevik leader Nikolai Burkharin in 1938.  Arthur Koestler, a Hungarian-British author/journalist was arrested as a communist spy during the Battle of Malaga (February 3-8, 1937) in the Spanish Civil War, and spent three months imprisoned in solitary confinement in the city of Seville seeing others lead out for execution and fearing he might be next.  This novel reads tension, prosecution and torturous influence very well.

And it has an interesting history.  In publication around the world since 1940, Koestler finished the novel in Paris in April 1940.  Arrested by the French Police as an enemy alien and a Soviet spy and imprisoned in Le Vernet internment camp in the south of France, he was able to work sporadically on the novel in the prison camp and finish it after his release to house arrest due to lack of evidence.  While he was imprisoned his English girlfriend, Daphne Hardy had started translating some excerpts from the original novel.  She had no experience of translation, no access to reference material or even dictionaries, but did the best she could.  With the novel and translation finished in April 1940, and with Koestler's enthusiastic encouragement, she submitted her translation to publisher Jonathan Cape in London, and Koestler mailed his carbon copy in German to a publisher in neutral Switzerland - only days before Germany invaded Paris.  When Hardy and Koestler fled Paris ahead of the Germans, the original of the novel in German was lost and the Swiss publisher was never heard from. The world was at war - Koestler assumed the manuscript never made it to Switzerland. The many translations in print since 1940 are of Robin Hardy's English translation of Arthur Koestler's German copy of the book.  

In 2015 a German graduate student working on Koestler's German writings stumbled across the carbon copy of a novel titled The Vicious Circle in the archives of Europa Verlag in Switzerland, under the German spelling of Rubashov - Rubaschow.  The several first pages of the carbon manuscript were marked with French censor stamps, and the work meant little to Swiss editors in the 1940s.  

Though her work was considered very good, her translation fluid, Robin Hardy's lack of reference materials and youth had an unintended nuance on Koestler's work.  This translation from Koestler's actual work by Philip Boehm, fluent in German and Polish and with years of experience in both translation and Marxist-Leninist jargon, makes for a tighter, more fierce work.
Was this review helpful?
Darkness at Noon is a thinker's book. The action is minimal. Rubashov, the main character, a former hero of the Russian revolution, finds himself imprisoned during the Stalinist purges—a fate he had been anticipating. On his own and in conversation with his interrogators, Rubashov repeatedly rethinks the choices he's made for the Party. Rubashov has spent his life convinced that his actions and logic must be directed toward the Party's good, regardless of the cost in individual lives. Now that he's imprisoned and knows his execution is guaranteed, he feels less certain. 

The moral dilemmas raised by this book are not just fascinating, and timely. The language and logic of power in Darkness at Noon are familiar in our historical moment. If it were possible to give a six-star rating, I'd give it to this edition of Darkness at Noon. It is challenging and rewarding reading. The questions it explores are discomforting and universal. 

Note: This is the first new English translation of Darkness at Noon since the original publication. Koestler's manuscript had thought to have been lost during WWII, but was (re)discovered in an archive. The book is not autobiography, but Keostler did spend time as a political prisoner in several European countries. This detailed understanding of confinement for political ideals permeates the book. Highly recommeded.

I received a free copy of this title in exchange for an honest review; the views are my own.
Was this review helpful?
This is a newly discovered "lost text" of the classic totalitarian allegory Darkness at Noon, originally published in 1940. Set in 1930s Moscow during Stalin's show trials (though never explicitly stated: the geography is kept purposefully vague, and the party leader is referred to only as "Number One"), it's the tale of former party bigwig Rubashov, who has fallen from grace and been imprisoned on trumped up charges and continually interrogated to extract false confessions. 

It's hard not to read this book without thinking of 1984, which would be published less than a decade later. The plot lines are stylistically very similar, with the major difference being the historical realism of Darkness at Noon vs the "futuristic" take of 1984. While Darkness at Noon is a vital work of anti-fascist literature, I personally found myself unable to relate too much to the main character, who is continually lost in logical and philosophical ramblings with himself as he tries to make sense of his life up to his current predicament. It's also bitterly predictable, which is obviously a statement on the politics of the time period.

I've never read the original translation, so I can't compare it at all to this newer edition, but I will say that it's well translated. There's never really any moments that feel wooden or strange. This is worth a read if you're a fan of 1984, Brave New World, or the Stranger. 

**I was given a copy of this book by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Scribner.**
Was this review helpful?
Written in the 1930's as Stalin purged the previous politburo members, Darkness at Noon offers a taste of the dark dreary Soviet world where the truth changes depending on who is now in power.  In a visionary passage, there is talk about how the books were purged from the library and how the job would only be complete if they had taken the old newspapers and changed the news of the day.  Other passages are eerie as well as the individual will is subordinated to the will of the party, whatever that will presently is.  For those who think that socialism is paradise, this story is an abrupt awakening.  Ultimately it may start out as well-meaning but it becomes all about power.  

The protagonist has been a party member his whole life, once important, now that tastes has changed, he is accused of being a traitor.  And he is Imprisoned along with thousands of other political prisoners, each one by one walked down the hall to confess their sins before execution.  

Not a normal structured novel.  It traces the descent from party boss to prisoner to turncoat to conviction.  Dark, haunting, a society been turned upside down. Republished with a new translation based on the original newly discovered manuscript.  A classic that is being rediscovered.
Was this review helpful?
Koestler's prose takes the reader straight to a foreboding atmosphere.  We feel the plight of the main character in a novel that is thrilling, political, and thought-provoking.  Darkness at Noon is a classic work that remains relevant and stands as an example of tense and emotional writing.
Was this review helpful?