Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon is something of a masterpiece. Written in 1941, this novel follows the imprisonment and interrogations of Rubashov, a leader of a fictional communist revolution in an unnamed state (which is, of course, based on Soviet Russia under the rule of Stalin).
Rubashov finds himself in the custody of the Communist government he helped to establish as a result of his philosophical dissention with the totalitarian leader, referred to only as No. 1. Whatsmore, that same government has charged Rubashov with crimes against the state of which he emphatically insists his innocence. The audience follows Rubashov as he debates whether to die with silence, and therefore become a martyr for the opposition, or whether he will capitulate, to the benefit of the same totalitarian regime which has imprisoned him.
One might be left with questioning why, of all pieces of anti-totalitarian literature, Darkness at Noon stands out in importance and readability. The reasons are numerous.
First, there is the adventurous story of its creation—Koestler wrote the book while fleeing from France as the Germans invaded at the start of World War II. He passed the text, page-by-page, as he wrote them in German to his girlfriend, Daphne Hardy, who translated them into English. The pair smuggled themselves into Britain, where Koestler was immediately arrested out of fear of espionage. He was shortly released, and Darkness at Noon published.
There is its enduring international appeal. The New York Times recently published a piece about Liu Sulli, a bookstore owner from Beijing who tries to provide access to good books and great ideas in spite of Chinese censors. Darkness at Noon is one of his favorite titles, but has been banned by Chinese censors since 2006.
And, of course, there is the continuing relevancy of a text which attempts to understand the thought process of those who support or are complicit with totalitarian regimes. International concerns about the Russian government continue to rise in the light of its meddling in the 2016 election and its apparent assassination of a former spy in England. In response to these concerns, Darkness at Noon continues to be an illuminating piece.
Above all of these fascinating and valid reasons, Darkness at Noon should be read simply because it is a great book. It is entertaining, thought-provoking, and lends itself to fruitful discussion. Furthermore, Koestler does an excellent job of depiction the turmoil behind those tempted to capitulate for the benefit of a totalitarian regime, enabling the reader to generate a more effective conception of such persons. For these reasons, I hope that Rover readers will pick up a copy of Darkness at Noon, and that it might once more hold the cultural prominence of its wartime publication.
Evan Holguin is a senior in the Program of Liberal Studies. He is incredibly grateful to the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and the Liberty Fund for introducing him to Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon. For any questions or further book recommendations, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.