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Darkness at Noon (1940)

by Arthur Koestler

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Koestler's Trilogy (2)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4,962901,827 (4.04)207
Originally published in 1941, Arthur Koestler's modern masterpiece, "Darkness At Noon," is a powerful and haunting portrait of a Communist revolutionary caught in the vicious fray of the Moscow show trials of the late 1930s. During Stalin's purges, Nicholas Rubashov, an aging revolutionary, is imprisoned and psychologically tortured by the party he has devoted his life to. Under mounting pressure to confess to crimes he did not commit, Rubashov relives a career that embodies the ironies and betrayals of a revolutionary dictatorship that believes it is an instrument of liberation. A seminal work of twentieth-century literature, "Darkness At Noon" is a penetrating exploration of the moral danger inherent in a system that is willing to enforce its beliefs by any means necessary.… (more)
  1. 80
    1984 by George Orwell (ivan.frade)
    ivan.frade: Both books talk about revolution and the people, individual rights vs. common wellness. "darkness at noon" is pretty similar to 1984, without the especulation/science-fiction ingredient.
  2. 40
    Animal Farm by George Orwell (chrisharpe)
  3. 30
    Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman (chrisharpe)
  4. 30
    Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell (br77rino)
    br77rino: Much of Orwell's impetus for writing "1984" came from his experience in the Spanish Civil War, which he writes about in this.
  5. 41
    One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (chrisharpe)
  6. 20
    The Anti-Communist Manifestos: Four Books That Shaped the Cold War by John V. Fleming (prosfilaes)
    prosfilaes: Fleming describes the context of Koestler's book, including how it compared, was affected by and affected other anti-Communist books.
  7. 31
    The Trial by Franz Kafka (chrisharpe)
  8. 20
    A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924 by Orlando Figes (GabrielF)
    GabrielF: Written in 1940, Darkness at Noon really takes you into the minds of the revolutionary generation during Stalin's purges. A People's Tragedy is a very readable, thorough and fascinating history of the revolution.
  9. 10
    Dialogue with Death by Arthur Koestler (longway)
  10. 00
    The Gods Will Have Blood by Anatole France (mambo_taxi)
    mambo_taxi: Different men and different revolutions, both books involve true believers who follow their revolutions right up to the point where they are destroyed by them.
  11. 00
    Gece Yarisinda Aydinlik by Erica Glaser Wallach (bertilak)
  12. 01
    Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada (chrisharpe)
  13. 12
    The Case of Comrade Tulayev by Victor Serge (thatguyzero)
  14. 04
    We the Living by Ayn Rand (br77rino)
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» See also 207 mentions

English (78)  Dutch (4)  French (4)  Hebrew (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (88)
Showing 1-5 of 78 (next | show all)
This is one the great works of anti-Stalinist literature. It is an attempt by the ex-Communist Koestler to imagine how Soviet interrogators squeezed confessions out of men like Zinoviev, Kamenev and Bukharin — men who had led the revolution and had themselves in many cases stood up bravely to torture and imprisonment under the tsarist regime. And yet to a man, it seemed as if they all confessed during the Moscow show trials to crimes against a revolution to which they had dedicated their lives.

This book is above all a work of imagination; Koestler could not have known what was discussed between prisoners and their NKVD torturers. He guessed that at least in some cases, the accused were actually persuaded by the logic of doing one last service for the Communist Party. He may have been right.

The protagonist, Rubashov, is a sympathetic character, introspective and thoughtful. And yet he realises his own guilt in creating the system that is about to destroy him. He has been forced by it to lie and betray, and aware of his guilt he is prepared to sign confessions admitting to crimes he could not have committed. He knows that he committed other crimes, and deserves to be punished for those.

Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand totalitarianism, especially in its Bolshevik variant. ( )
  ericlee | Jun 23, 2022 |
This novel is about a man who was prisoned because of opposition. ( )
  alishkakhan | Oct 18, 2021 |
"History knows no scruples and no hesitation. Inert and unerring flows towards her goal. History knows her way. She makes no mistakes."

"Darkness at Noon" was first published in 1941 and thought my many to be the inspiration behind Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm. Although the country isn't actually named it is pretty obvious that is set during the purges undertaken in 1930's Russia under Stalin's leadership.

When Rubashov is awoken in the middle of the night from a dream and arrested by the Russian Secret Police he is initially relieved as he will no longer have to worry about being arrested.

Rubashov fully expects to be kept in solitary confinement until he is shot. He spends a great deal of time thinking over his life. He had been a respected man, given difficult and dangerous assignments abroad and even been tortured, thus proving his loyalty to the Party and its objectives. Lately, though, he has been rethinking this loyalty because the Party he once believed in has turned into something different and the Utopian society that was promised still seems just as far away as it ever was. Rubashov feels torn between continued loyalty, his own conscience and his desire to survive.

After about a week in prison, Rubashov is brought in for his first hearing which is presided over by someone he knows, Ivanov, a Civil War veteran and an Old Bolshevik who shares the same view of the Revolution as himself. Rubashov is informed that if he confesses to the charges his sentence will be shortened to five or ten years in a labour camp, instead of execution. The actual charges are irrelevant as both men know that Rubashov hasn't actually done anything. Rubashov is given two weeks to think over the proposal.

Two weeks later Ivanov has been replaced by his junior, Gletkin, who takes charge of Rubashov's interrogation. Gletkin is child of the Revolution who knows nothing other than the Party. He is an advocate of using brutality to get confessions and immediately goes to work using some brutal physical punishments including sleep deprivation and shining a lamp in Rubashov's face for hours.

None of these methods work until Rubashov learns that Ivanov has himself been executed. This breaks his resolve and he confesses. He can't help thinking about the many agents he himself betrayed during the course of his career, and understands that; as he has sewn, so shall he reap. He is still loyal to the Party and believing that not doing so will harm it, pleads guilty publicly in court.

Almost all the action within this novel is seen through the mind of Rubashov. The action consists of his contact with fellow prisoners, witnesses and accusers but increasingly with his own memories and guilt.

Koestler is a Jew who was himself once a member of the Communist party and even imprisoned whilst working as a journalist covering the Civil War in Spain. This novel centres around morals and politics. It looks deeply into the collective mind of a totalitarian society asking the question whether the the ends ever justify the means. Can a just society be formed at any means or will those means change the nature of that society?

This is in many respects a moral fable that still has a certain relevance even today. As Koestler asks readers to share Rubashov's final choice he reminds us that political choices past and present have consequences.

Although Rubashov himself is fictional he is however a composite of several genuine figures. I found this is a bit of a slow burner that you cannot just pick up and put down as you please but instead have to concentrate on. All the same I found it an interesting read that gave me some insight into a period of history that I previously knew little about. In particular when I read the afterword and realised that some of Stalin's decisions in the 1930's aided or at least hastened the rise of the Nazi Party. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Oct 14, 2021 |
Darkness at Noon. Arthur Koestler. 1941. This is a novel of the Moscow trials during the 1940s when Stalin was consolidating his power in Russia. We are taken through the arrest and trial of a man who was a loyal party member but dared to make comments questioning the powers that be, even though he knew how dangerous it was. Written in the first person, the short novel is a searing indictment of a government whose leaders want to stay in power at any cost. This small beautifully written novel should be required reading for all thinking adult and young people. It is right up there with 1984 and Brave New World. Chilling. ( )
  judithrs | Jun 15, 2021 |
An obvious "inspiration" for 1984 (it deals with similar themes, settings, and characters, plus George Orwell even wrote an essay about it), this book should really be more popular, because its writing is just as good as its progeny's. Its allegory of the Soviet Union is as thin as Orwell's works (Stalin is "No. 1", the Communist Party is "the Party", etc.), but Koestler's own experiences with the Soviet system (being captured and very nearly executed by Franco) are front and center in the book. Rubashov is a Trotsky-esque Old Guard Party member who is arrested on the trumped-up charges typical of the 1930s USSR, and while incarcerated before his show trial undergoes an extremely deep and penetrating analysis of the Revolution's psychological foundations, his own role in enforcing Party discipline, the ugliness of the new world he helped create, and his own slow acceptance of the inevitable titanomachia as the children of the Revolution gradually eliminate his generation. There's also a very interesting religious angle to the book (Dostoevsky seems to have made a big impact on Koestler) comparing the promised revolutionary utopia to the Kingdom of Heaven, and Rubashov's occasional comparisons of himself to Georges Danton add an additional layer of allusion to the French Revolution that clearly recalls Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities. 1984 will always have a prized place in my personal library, but Darkness at Noon will now have to stand right beside it. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 78 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (46 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Koestler, Arthurprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Boehm, PhilipTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hardy, DaphneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Scammell, MichaelIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Scardifield, SimonAdaptersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Walter, Hans-AlbertEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Yevtushenko, SashaDirectorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
He who establishes a dictatorship and does not kill Brutus, or he who founds a republic and does not kill the sons of Brutus, will only reign a short time.
Machiavelli, Discorsi

Man, man, one cannot live without pity.
Dostoyevsky, Crime and punishment
Dedication
The characters in this book are fictitious.  The historical circumstances which determined their actions are real.  The life of the man N.S. Rubashov is a synthesis of the lives of a number of men who were victims of the so-called Moscow Trials.  Several of them were personally known to the author.  This book is dedicated to their memory. - Paris, October 1938 - April, 1940
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The cell door slammed behind Rubashov.
Quotations
How can one change the world if one identifies oneself with everybody?
How else can one change it?
He who understands and forgives - where would he find a motive to act?
Where would he not?
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Originally published in 1941, Arthur Koestler's modern masterpiece, "Darkness At Noon," is a powerful and haunting portrait of a Communist revolutionary caught in the vicious fray of the Moscow show trials of the late 1930s. During Stalin's purges, Nicholas Rubashov, an aging revolutionary, is imprisoned and psychologically tortured by the party he has devoted his life to. Under mounting pressure to confess to crimes he did not commit, Rubashov relives a career that embodies the ironies and betrayals of a revolutionary dictatorship that believes it is an instrument of liberation. A seminal work of twentieth-century literature, "Darkness At Noon" is a penetrating exploration of the moral danger inherent in a system that is willing to enforce its beliefs by any means necessary.

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