This week I read the influential novel, Darkness At Noon by Arthur Koestler, which I review below.
Darkness At Noon by Arthur Koestler
Darkness At Noon is dedicated to the victims of ‘The Moscow Trials’, several of whom the author Arthur Koestler knew. Though the characters in the book are fictitious, the historical circumstances of the Soviet Union under Stalin in the 1930s are not. The book follows the protagonist Rubashov, a veteran of the Revolution and a decorated war hero, who had enjoyed a distinguished position in the party and had at one time been close to the leader Stalin, referred to in the book as No.1.
The opening scene sees Rubashov confined to an isolation cell having been accused of counter-revolutionary crimes. The story follows the pensive, chain-smoking Rubashov as he awaits his fate and reflects on his past, as well as the morality and workings of the party. Rubashov’s existence is one of privation, his only communication with the outside world being initially with prisoners in other cells via a knocking system until he is later permitted the relative luxury of being allowed to walk in the exercise yard each morning.
The head of the prison is the cynical intellectual Ivanov, a member of the old guard and a former comrade of Rubashov, who had fought alongside him in the Civil War following the Revolution. However Ivanov is to become yet another member of the disappearing old revolutionaries, when he is removed from his position, accused of political crimes, probably due to his connection to the political prisoner Rubashov. The result is that Rubashov is left at the hands of the humourless Gletkin, a fervent follower of the party. Days and nights merge as one as a lengthy interrogation ensues, its purpose to prepare the sleep-deprived Rubashov for the invariable show trial. Following his confession, our protagonist is left waiting in his cell for the trial, immersed in introspection and plagued by a guilty memory.
Darkness At Noon is a powerful and poignant political novel that examines issues of morality, particularly that of justifying the means to an end. Fascist and Communist systems are considered as being indistinguishable ideological systems that are in principle the same, in that both systems view their ideological goals as being superior to freedom and individual justice.