Monday, March 19, 2007

The Darkness at Noon

Downshifting quite considerably from my last book post is the reissued Darkness at Noon, by Arthur Koestler. First published in the 1941, Darkness at Noon tell a bleak insiders tale of Stalin's brutal 1930's Communist Party purges. In my research of the book, I've often seen it compared in magnitude and importance to Orwell's 1984. While the anti-communist/Stalin theme is the same, I found little else to support that assertion while reading Darkness myself. Koestler, who was once an ardent supporter of Communism, but at the time of his writing had denounced the Party, writes his fiction with a much more personal and haunting prose. Knowing this it is puzzling, however, that through his main character the imprisoned, former Party Elite Rubashov, Koestler often sounds more like a Communist apologist that anything else.

How old might Gletkin be? Thirty-six or seven, at the most; he must have taken part in the Civil War as a youth and seen the out-break of the Revolution as a mere boy. That was the generation which had started to think after the flood. It had no traditions, and no memories to bind it to the old, vanished world. It was a generation born without an umbilical cord, deny the last tie which bound one to the vain conceptions of honour and the hypocritical decency of the old world. Honour was to serve without vanity, without sparing oneself, and until the last consequence.

In prison, Rubashov sees the divergence Communism has taken, from a Party of thought and theory to one of mindless action. He chooses to romanticize it rather than deal with the consequences, which in his situation usually means torture and death. Rubashov was a co-architect of the system which has now fingered him as an enemy. He finds it ironic, just and at times, humorous. He has been a conspirator, murder, antagonist and subjugator all for the sake of the Party's philosophy. History will be his judge he says, "if I was right I have nothing to repent, if wrong, I will pay." But he is wrong, history will not be the first to judge him, it will be the monsters in his own Party, the very people he helped put in power.

Darkness at Noon does a fair job of revealing the mindset of the brainwashed Communist masses, the underlying Party insurgents and the brutal bureaucratic system which considers both groups its mortal enemy. However, the long passages of political monologue and debate that encompass most of the second half of the book grow tiresome, especially in light of Rubashov's subsequent capitulation in the face of torture. If all agree who is right and who is wrong, why the need for long debate? "Observe, " Gletkin went on, "that the Party holds out to you no prospect of reward. Some of the accused have been made amenable by physical pressure. Others, by the promise to save their heads- or the heads of their relatives who had fallen into our hands as hostages. To you, Comrade Rubashov, we propose no bargain and we promise nothing."
"I understand", the old revolutionary Rubashov says. He would rather give up than fight on.

Darkness at Noon

Arthur Koestler

What I'm reading next: Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer


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