Book Review of Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler. Reviewed by Miguel A. Faria, MD

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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

“I went to Communism as one goes to a spring of fresh water, and I left Communism as one clambers out of a poisoned river strewn with the wreckage of flooded cities and the corpses of the drowned.” --- Arthur Koestler

Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler is both a literary masterpiece and a tour de force in intellectual historical drama; it is as eloquent, but even more intense than Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Both dramas are fast moving and intensely emotive. But whereas in Solzhenitsyn’s little epic we are dealing within injustice, imprisonment, useless labor, and hopelessness, in the case of Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, we are dealing with the more immediate arrest and incarceration of a former apparatchik, a former Bolshevik whose hands are not completely clean and who had participated in bringing about the state of persecution and terror in which he finds himself now as a victim. Arthur Koestler

The personal significance and historical context of this masterpiece is inextricably entwined with the life and career of its author, Arthur Koestler (1905-1983; photo, right). Koestler was a Hungarian ethnic Jew, a journalist and a former member of the German Communist Party. Koestler became disillusioned during Stalin’s purges when many of his communist friends and comrades, many of them Jews, were executed as enemies of the State. Koestler knew these men were loyal Party members, devoted communists, not traitors, even as they were made to confess imaginary political crimes. Many of them even had rationalized Stalin’s crimes in the interest of the Party and ideology. Koestler had participated in the Spanish Civil War, was arrested in 1937 by Franco’s forces, and condemned to death. Unlike his comrades who had been recalled to Moscow and executed, Koestler was imprisoned for four months and then released. It was during those months of confinement and introspection that he came to reject communism, conceptualized and wrote his book. He ended up in exile in England, where he wrote a number of articles and books denouncing totalitarianism and communism. He gained fame as a great writer, travelled widely espousing anti-communist political causes, and was even made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Darkness at Noon bookThe novel Darkness at Noon revolves around the arrest, incarceration, and serial interrogations of an old Bolshevik Rubashov during Stalin’s arrests and purges of the 1930s. Rubashov was sentenced to death by the Party, the same Communist Party of which he had been an intricate part. Flashbacks, reminiscences, introspection, and mental self-recriminations revolve in his mind as he is interrogated and awaits his fate. Darkness at Noon is brilliantly written and florid phrases adorn the narrative as when Rubashov, during underground activities in Belgium, recalls “the smell of the docks in the little ports, a mixture of seaweeds and petrol,” and remembers Lenin as “the old man with the Tartar eyes.”

Rubashov reminisces on the work he had done for the Party and “the Person of No 1” [Stalin]. He had served the Party and carried out distasteful pragmatic decisions. But it had not all gone well with Stalin. Rubashov had traveled to Germany to support the communist party there, had been arrested and recalled to Moscow. Since that time, he had been fortunate that although suspected, he had not been arrested upon his return. In Belgium and elsewhere, he had enforced Party discipline on other “diversionist” members; he had sent hundreds to their deaths for failure to obey Party instructions; he had even sent supplies to enemies of communism, fascist Italy and Germany, by orders of the Party “because it was expedient to the Cause.” He had obeyed and informed on those who disagreed with the Party, although he himself had thought those policies were “wrong and harmful.” In short Rubashov had sacrificed his own morality for the pragmatism and expediency of the Party.

Rubashov is supposed to be a composite of several executed Bolsheviks, and in the historical context, Lev Khamenev (1883-1936) and Grigory Zinoviev (1883-1936) immediately come to mind with superimposed echoes of Leon Trotsky in his better moments during interrogations. In fact, all in all the fictional character Rubashov behaved with more composure and courage Political show trials in Soviet Russiathan most of the old Bolsheviks behaved when confronted by Stalin, his secret police, and the show trials (photo, right). On the other hand, Koestler’s own arrest and incarceration, inner rebellion, and rejection of communism in many ways parallels the mental odyssey and anguish of prisoner Rubashov.

Darkness at Noon has been credited with having helped to turn the political tide against collectivism in Europe and to expose the evil realities of Soviet communism to the world. I believe it did. Despite the fall of communism and the evil Soviet empire, Koestler’s masterpiece remains timeless, not only because of the historic parallels but also because of the emotive elements, the intense psychological drama as well as a literary tour de force. I highly recommend this book to historical aficionados as well as lovers of masterful literature.

Postscript. No one should be surprised that even after his death, the progressive academia found ways, as they did with Whittaker Chambers and other disillusioned liberals, to throw various slanderous accusations against Koestler, a man who helped shattered their messianic dreams of a coming socialist utopia. These distasteful imputations are very seldom made against progressive icons by academe or the liberal press, which instead have a penchant to publish luminous obituaries full of fluff listing the various progressive causes that these luminaries espoused during their frequently empty existence.

Reviewed by Dr. Miguel Faria

Miguel A. Faria, M.D. is an Associate Editor in Chief and World Affairs Editor of Surgical Neurology International (SNI). He is President of Haciendapublishing, a retired neurosurgeon, and the author of  Cuba in Revolution — Escape From a Lost Paradise (2002). His website is http://www.haciendapub.com 

This article may be cited as: Faria MA. Book Review of Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler. Reviewed by Miguel A. Faria, MD. Haciendapub.com, January 3, 2017. Available from: http://www.haciendapublishing.com/articles/book-review-darkness-noon-arthur-koestler-reviewed-miguel-faria-md

Copyright ©2017  Miguel A. Faria, Jr., MD

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Comments on this post

A Time to Read Darknesss at Noon

One of the exceptional benefits of this website that I enjoy is the occasional book reviews. Here again is another book of which I have not read, yet the need to do so becomes established with this review. I am always amazed by what I do not know. Ha.

When I read of “The Great Terror” in the USSR or incidents such as these, my immediate reaction is: what goes around, comes around. Why should the leaders of the Communist arty not share in the horror they created? My sympathy lies much more with those who had no part in the totalitarian torture world of Marx/Leninism, Mao, and Stalin. While many of these leaders may have considered themselves just cogs in the machine, they not only chose to join the Communist Party but benefited from their apparatchik status with better housing, food, and healthcare.

On another level, though, one can see into this system where no one was safe, citizen’s rights as we know them did not exist. Rubashov “had thought those policies were ‘wrong and harmful.’ In short Rubashov had sacrificed his own morality for the pragmatism and expediency of the party.” Illustrated is the maxim “morality under communism means what is good for the state,” not one’s fellow man. Hence, the socialists always seek the destruction of any rival morality, such as religion.

Fiction can never be taken literally, yet it can often illustrate the political dimensions or problems better or in a dose easier swallowed than mere facts. How many leftists or communist sympathizers or apologists dare decry Orwell’s 1984? It opened eyes that can no longer be shut. The character here apparently had no problem with sacrificing others, yet when his own time of sacrifice comes---and he discovers the injustice personally—he begins a deeper evaluation of himself and the system.

Your concise review and noted recommendation requires me to read Darkness at Noon. Novels of reflection often contain much universal wisdom too. Herman Hesse comes to mind, but the list is near endless. I look forward to reading this novel.

Those who survived...

You talk about those who did survive him. I think most of the important ones didn't, but it amazes me when you find people in positions of very high power who did.

You have Molotov dying in 1986, and Kaganovich dying in 1991. Even Khrushchev survived until 1971.

I think this makes it clear that Stalin's death is probably the only reason anyone such as these people survived him. So that is probably what the appeal is of the notion that he was poisoned. That is where I have the major problem. The politics fit, but the medical evidence is still scanty. There are still reasons to believe the stroke merely occurred at a very opportune time, but the problem is Beria. He did not survive Stalin for long, but he is probably the only member of Stalin's close circle who was made of the "right stuff" to do it. He is the major reason why I will never rule it out.

Good choice!

I should check out some places on line to see if I could get a good deal on a copy. Yes, you are right, Miguel, it will be a great read.

“I went to Communism as one goes to a spring of fresh water, and I left Communism as one clambers out of a poisoned river strewn with the wreckage of flooded cities and the corpses of the drowned.” --- Arthur Koestler"

I can't help but laugh when I read this because I remember reading about the American left thinking Lenin wanted to make having sex as unimportant as drinking a glass of water. Just go and do it, like you would turn on the tap. After you drank the water, it was not even worth thinking about.

We know now it was really was the opposite. Lenin despised homosexuality and wrote legislation as early 1918 to combat it. He was also a prude who did not smoke or drink, and he constantly worried about Stalin's health, because Stalin enjoyed all of those excesses reserved for party members. Does the left ever read?

Alexandra Kollontai was an old Bolshevik who was very aware of her beauty, so she enjoyed seducing whatever man pleased her fancy. As a result of this, Lenin and Stalin despised her. This type of sexual amorality was too typical of the decadent West. Stalin never had her purged, because he found her much more useful alive so he could taunt her.

Stalin's medical treatment for his minions

Hi Miguel … Off that topic [Darkness at Noon] Miguel, for an instant, which I may have to return to later this week. It had popped into my mind the other day about the case of Mikhail Frunze in 1925. He was an excellent (and loyal) military commander during the civil war, but ran into trouble with Stalin for being too outspoken, as well as a number of other minor matters.

Frunze preferred to treat his gastric ulcer with more conservative measures (in those days, the "Sippy" diet?), but Stalin and the others urged him (for his own "safety") to undergo surgery. He finally agreed after a severe acute upset, but never regained consciousness after the operation, which was not unusual in those days. Nobody ever established murder, but it has been proved he was administered several times the normal dose of chloroform for the procedure.

Now we have a list of several suspected poisonings by Stalin in the 1920's before he had the power to hold show trials. I think I am going to add this, because as I have written to you before, the neo-Arsphenamine (Salvarsan606) Lenin was given for suspected syphilis used arsenic as the active ingredient. I have no evidence, but as Stalin did dictate Lenin's medical care, an overdose of that would be a cinch for him to accomplish.--- Dr. Adam Bogart
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Dr. Faria replies: Hi Adam, The Frunze story is intriguing if somewhat ghastly comical. But he was not the only Soviet leader to be coaxed or forced by Stalin to have treatment which he’d did not survive. Bulgarian Georgi Dmitrov, a man subject to numerous adventures, also did not survive treatment in Stalin’s sanatorium, and this was as late as 1949! This is the same Dmitrov, incidentally, who in 1933 was arrested in Berlin suspected of complicity in the famous Reichstag fire, and successfully defended himself, although pitted against Hermann Goering, later the Reichstag Marshall of the Third Reich, as main accuser. This episode gained for Dmitrov a year later in 1934 his appointment by Stalin as the head of the Comintern. He had numerous adventures surviving the various purges by performing various tightrope political acts for Stalin. But by 1949 Stalin finally may have thought Dmitrov was expendable and he did not survive the sanatorium.

Another intriguing but very cynical character, who did survive Stalin, is Naftaly Frenkel (1883-1960). He not only survived but helped Stalin squeeze the turnip out of prisoners and make the gulag economically profitable. He almost made my list of the ten shadiest and most devious politicians and revolutionists. Available from: http://www.haciendapublishing.com/articles/ten-shadiest-and-most-devious...

(1) Frenkel & (2) the lies of atheists

I love this site because I am always learning. I thought I heard of Frenkel, but I did have to review his history to recall him. Yes, Miguel, I see why you would call him one of the 10 most devious politicians (or revolutionists).

He realized the road to redemption as a gulag prisoner - the one way to success under Stalin which most people did not. Millions of letters must have been written to Stalin from the camps, and I believe he read every one, as the right to correspondence with the Vozhd was taken very seriously. But the majority of them were tossed into the trash immediately after a laugh or a sneer or sometimes forwarded to Beria or Kaganovich with a sarcastic quip written in red pencil because they were asking for mercy of some sort or apologizing for past actions.

Only a few enterprising people realized that you could reduce your sentence or even get released if you presented a good idea objectively. That is what he seems to have done, and very successfully. He did a lot more than that, but I note that he was chief of construction on the White Sea-Baltic Canal project, which was a very high post for a former gulag prisoner, and a very highly valued project for Stalin. The ironic thing about this project is that Stalin was very disappointed in it. I don't know how many thousands died building it, but the engineering was inferior, and it was practically unusable. Yet, even this did not prevent Stalin's hand from saving Frenkel during a particularly lethal purge in the far East in 1938.
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makes a very poignant comment concerning communism and religion:

"Illustrated is the maxim “morality under communism means what is good for the state,” not one’s fellow man. Hence, the socialists always seek the destruction of any rival morality, such as religion."

Atheists NEVER admit that their ideology has anything to do with the bloodshed of hundreds of millions seen under totalitarian leftist regimes. They say that the regimes are atheist, but that the atheist ideology has nothing to do with the killings. Additionally, they contrast these regimes to so called "theocratic" ones, and then say that the religious component of these regimes has everything to do with the bloodshed seen in them. This I find totally nonsensical, as they consider Nazi Germany to be a Christian theocracy. Yes, sure, because Hitler had a very personal relationship with Jesus. But just as nonsensical is the idea that atheism is not playing a role in the murder of the clergy and the faithful in leftist totalitarian regimes. Of course it is, because what is good for the State is almost never good for one's fellow man, and anyone who teaches a rivaling philosophy or believes in it must be eliminated. Actually, totalitarian regimes of any flavor tend to be atheistic for the same reason, but they may present a different mask to the general public.

Dr. Blaylock, Koba56, and now you Adam, have joined with me in forming a panel of top Sovietologists anywhere. I'm very proud of all the comments you have all made for our growing encyclopedic chronicles of the main personages, lives, and deeds of Soviet communism. I have been busy this week with mundanes chores but still plan to comments on all your comments as soon as I have a chance. MAF



Diary of Dreams performs at the 2016 M’era Luna festival in Hildesheim, Germany. M’era Luna, “one of the biggest dark music events in Germany,” is held each year on the second weekend in August. Close to 25,000 people attend the festival annually to hear gothic, metal and industrial music performed on two large festival-style stages.