Book Review: "Darkness at Noon" by Arthur Koestler
5/5 - a fascinating insight into Communist Russia...
When it comes to political novels involving communism, there are a few that I like which start with The Gulag Archipelago at the very top, working down through to Animal Farm and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. But with Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon - new things have been learnt, especially links to The Gulag Archipelago. It is a brilliant novel which is about your own government turning its back on you. It has brilliant extended metaphor, symbols of violence through pistols and holsters, scenes of pain, anguish and sorrow and communications that are implied to be dangerous and concerning to the overarching brutal hand of the government.
The novel is set between 1938 and 1940 after what is commonly known as Stalin's Purge with a character called Number One representing Joseph Stalin, a menacing and evil dictator who cares not for the people who put him into power, but only gaining more of it. The book is split into 'First Interrogation', 'Second Interrogation' and 'Third Interrogation' and stars an Old Bolshevik called Rubashov who is turned against by the very government he helped to implement into society.
A brilliant book for the case against communism, this book puts out all the suffering right into the forefront, especially in the translation by Philip Boehm who deliberately translates the book using the realities of the horrors of the prison camps, famously changing the chapter titles from 'hearing' to 'interrogation'.
The novel begins with the main character being arrested and thrown into prison. The secret police (thought to be the NKVD) wake him from a dream in which he remembers being arrested by the Gestapo. He resigns himself as he thinks that now he will be kept in prison until he is executed by one bullet to the head. But he also believes that whilst he may not be thought of as a great person at the moment, history might look favourably on him when this regime finally falls. He daydreams often about when he joined the party as a teenager and thoughts go back from before his arrest to him sitting in his jail cell. Rubashov and Ivanov have a conversation about the war whilst Ivanov is an interrogator and Robashov is his prisoner.
Throughout the book, Rubashov's diary makes various appearances and his comments on how he helped the regime and then was betrayed by it seem to come more and more to the forefront. We find that his views on communism are not, in the Stalinist era, nearly extreme enough and this may be the reason he was put into prison along with other things he has been accused of. We get various forms of critical analysis on political states that are going on in the years 1938 to 1940 and how he cannot possibly believe that 'mass consciousness rises at a constant and consistent rate.' And though he doesn't like this newer, more brutal form of communism, he thinks capitalism too, will perish soon enough.
Rubashov's confessions to the crimes laid against him though he did not commit them are very telling of the way in which the communist system in Russia was set against any form of free thought and free will. Everyone either leaned up against the state for protection or was jailed for unreasonable amounts of time for deflection. Eventually, those with harsher ties to deflection would be told to confess to crimes they may have not committed so that there would be grounds, with the more 'dangerous' of the prisoners with more influence, to eventually execute them. Free will, it is said, had ultimately ceased to exist.
In conclusion, this is one of the best books I have read in a long time it is a piece of truthfulness about a harsh, unrelenting regime. There is a lot to be learnt about a history that we are unfortunately on a cycle of that seems to be doomed to repeat it.