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Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon

Arthur Koestler's Darkness At Noon is a powerful, thoughtful and ultimately tragic discourse on revolutionary politics and the ultimate illegitimacy of totalitarian regimes which profess to act in the people's interest while simultaneously crushing any individual who dissents from the party line. The tension of the narrative - sustained relentlessly over its 200-plus pages - is truly remarkable, as the protagonist Rubashov fights for the Communist ideal only to see the Soviet state turn on him, imprisoning him and putting him on trial on trumped-up charges of counterrevolutionary activity. At first Rubashov is convinced of his innocence, but slowly realizes that under such a government one's innocence or guilt is completely irrelevant - if the regime wants one convicted, the accused is ultimately powerless to defend himself. Even a hero of the revolution like Rubashov isn't safe. He finally has to face the decision of either meekly accepting the state's punishment (to "die in silence") or to renounce the charges against him in an effort to expose the illegitimacy of the regime. The latter obviously means automatic doom, while the former offers the very slightest chance of bestowed mercy, although even that mercy would come at an enormous moral cost.

On reservation about the book: although some degree of ideological discourse is obviously needed in a political novel such as this, I still could have stood a little less lecturing, and even more representation of Rubashov's beliefs through his actions and remembrances. For me, all of the book's lecturing meant little compared to the symobolic act of Rubashov code-tapping the phrase "I am" when returned to his cell after his condemnation. That will probably remain the image I'll always remember from this book - the doomed prisoner finally asserting the primacy of the individual versus the collective "we" that the system imposed on him.

Koestler was clearly a major influence on George Orwell, whose classic 1984 echoes many of the themes presented in Darkness At Noon. The two novels could even be considered companion pieces, and if you've read and loved 1984 as much as I did, you should definitely check out Koestler's novel as well. Great reading that really makes you think.

February 22, 2010 in Books | Permalink


I loved "Darkness at Noon" when I read it a few years ago. I agree, it has a lot of echoes of "1984." I sometimes try to decide which is superior. But I don't think one is better than the other.

Posted by: Brandon at Feb 22, 2010 3:01:53 PM