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on March 13, 2002
DARKNESS AT NOON remains one of the 20th Century's most incisive political allegories because of its ironic, literal historicism. The title refers to the hour when Christ, whom Christians revere and worship as personal Savior and Redeemer of Fallen Man in history, dies a criminal's death. Rome and people he came to serve are the instruments of execution wherein THE DELIVERER is delivered to abandonment and ultimate shame. Koestler's Rubashov is no Christ. On the contrary, he is a consummate liar and has lived his life ruthlessly pursuing POWER in guise of "deliverer" and friend of freedom.
Arthur Koestler...former communist who witnessed The(first)Great Betrayal incarnated in Stalinist Purge Trials of the late 1930's...writes his novel in form of "anti-Augustinian" confession.Its banal, un-melodramatic narrative of a politcal revolutionary's life as idealogue, spy and terrorist is anti-Gospel..."bad news"...that would enslave and murder millions in the cause of secular salvation. Rubashov stands for ruthless men...would be self-apotheosized gods...promising land, bread and end to tyranny.History shows what their Darkness at Noon brought.
The novel...along with Czeslaw Milosz'essay THE CAPTIVE recommended to readers needing refresher in psychology of political deceit. Americans who believe Political Correctness serves anything but a "Judas Project" might find Koestler's closing chapter of DARKNESS AT NOON ("The Grammatical Fiction") particularly illuminating/unnerving. Koestler's Rubashov is neither hero nor anti-hero. He is totalitarian bureaucrat; a secular demon serving a secular Hell.DARKNESS AT NOON is portrait of a dedicated liar following the Political Primer of the Father of Lies......
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on February 8, 2002
Arthur Koestler wrote this book after his disillusionment with Communism led him to reject his Marxist beliefs. Communism is, and will always be, an intellectual movement. It is probably the only form of government that came from books and writings of intellectuals. Apologists and other types of Neo-Marxists today try and shrug off the atrocities of Communism. They say that Stalinism and the like were not really Communism but an autocracy cloaking itself in proletariat trappings. These people are wrong, of course. Communism killed more people than National Socialism ever did. Even the chaos of democratic government cannot claim the body counts of Communism. In this book, Koestler tries to show how everything went wrong.
The book traces the arrest, interrogation and trial of Rubashov, a fictional composite of several real figures associated with Communist Russia. The one figure that leaps to mind immediately is Leon Trotsky. Every time Rubashov rubs his spectacles on his sleeve, I think of good old Trotsky (a murderous thug who got an axe in the head in Mexico, thanks to his old pal Uncle Joe Stalin). Regardless of who Rubashov is modeled on, comrade Rubashov is in trouble here. Rubashov is one of the founding fathers of the Communist revolution and Stalin (referred to as No.1) has decided to remove him from power, as well as life. Rubashov is arrested and jailed. His interrogator turns out to be an old friend, Ivanov. After Ivanov is himself arrested, Rubashov falls into the clutches of Gletkin, a sadistic thug who eventually gets Rubashov to confess to crimes against the Party. Needless to say, the end is not pretty. In fact, the whole book is glum and rather depressing.
Much of the book examines Rubashov's life in flashback. We see Rubashov dispatched to smooth over problems with local Commies, a meeting with a dissident Communist that ends badly for the dissident, and the sad relationship between Arlova and Rubashov. Arlova falls prey to execution because Rubashov sells her out to keep himself alive. Like I said, this is depressing stuff. There is also a fair amount of philosophical musings on Communism as well. Personally, I have little sympathy for a character like Rubashov. It was men such as him that killed hundreds of thousands when the Communist government came to power. Under Lenin, a terror unleashed on the upper class resulted in mass death, and confiscations of grain in the countryside caused even more mayhem. Stalinism, rearing its ugly head in the 1930's, was a logical progression of Leninism and its warped visions. Koestler shows us in sparse, unremittingly grim prose the end product of these horrors.
I read this book fairly quickly. It is only a little over 200 pages long and is good for killing some time. A superficial knowledge of Russian Communism is helpful in understanding some of Koestler's references, although even this is not necessary to experience the terror in this book. This book was even put on the list of the 100 all-time greats of the 20th century. I can see why. Read and understand.
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on January 18, 2002
Darkness at Noon convinces me that developing a true political perspective is impossible. We see the protagonist, Rubashov, a key figurehead of a state's socialist revolution, who ends up executed by his party.
He sacrifices his entire life, individuality, and self-worth for party dogma and ideology. His former party, now in power, accuses him of being 'politically divergent,' of the party's interests; an accusation that is very far from the truth - the party's interests WAS Rubashov's interests, but not vice versa.
Thus, a major theme of the novel is the question of means and ends. It outright rejects the notion that 'all ends justify all means.' To Rubashov, he believed in this notion to such an extent that he stood passively when his lover, Arlova, was accused and thereby executed for treason - by actively defending her, he would obstruct his party's socialist mission.
However, Rubashov, like Trotsky, doctrinated humanitarian reason into party ideology (remember Khrushev's slogan?: Socialism with a human face!). On ideological grounds, he rightly denounced the party's program of 'vaccinating,' all peasants who decried the willful submission of giving up land. Rubashov knew that his party's ideology (socialism) could be rationalized and logically carried out by any reasoning, even when it meant genocide.

The truth, then, becomes a central issue that Rubashov painstainkingly deals with. Can truth be deducted by an all-encompassing and logically true ideology? Is it necessary to carry out all means to reach the end? Rubashov constantly shifts from the past and the present in order to tackle these questions. Finally, he realizes that he was all wrong. When the party tries him for treason, Rubashov is finally convinced that at the present, he is in fact treasonous, since he regrets his past fanatical loyalty to the party.
The reader is left with a painful thought, how do I develop a political perspective without sacrificing humanity and truth? In this age of partisan politics, hidden information, citizen impotency, and rapid development, we are left with very little practical and human perspective. Many turn to ideology for perspective, a good way to make sense of the modern world. In all respects, Darkness at Noon near convinces me that it is almost near impossible to see the 'light' even at noon time.
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on December 22, 2002
This is, quite rightly, the classic novel about a power struggle within a monolithic political party.
To consolidate his power and to exert his own policies, a dictator uses the young guard to liquidate mercilessly his old fellow revolutionaries, who once were or still are critical of him.
Koestler relates hauntingly how his idealistic dreams are shattered and how the main aim of his whole life is destroyed:"But when he asked himself, for what actually are you dying? He found no answer." (p.206)
This is still a very modern work. It reminds us that a multi-party system and free elections are a must to eliminate all risks that a ruthless clique seizes power in a country.
This book is a masterpiece.
It contains a terrible quotation: "When the existence of the Church is threatened, she is released from the commandments of morality. With unity as the end, the use of every means is sanctified, even cunning, treachery, violence, simony, prison, death." (Dietrich von Nieheim, Bishop of Verden)
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on February 24, 2002
The novel Darkness at Noon would be a very good book if the person who is reading it were very into politics and communism. In order to understand this book completely the reader needs to be very well informed of the past. In this way they need to be able to understand history and know a lot about it. They also need to be able to compare Koestlers story and actual history and put the two together. The reader also needs to be able to realize that the story is parallel to Machiavelli and Stalin. The main character Rubashov refers to Machiavelli and Stalin a great deal in the story even though it is never actually stated that he is talking about the two of them. It seems that the character Rubashov wants to be like them and that he has in the past tried to make what he was doing to be something that they would have done.
If a reader does not know a great deal about history they can begin to like the book if they pay attention to what is happening to Rubashov. Although there are not many things that go on outside of Rubashov trying to figure out what he is going to do about his trial. In order to read the book for this purpose a reader really needs to concentrate and understand that there are things going on in the background. The reader will also need to read between the lines and think more into the psychological meaning of the book. If a person is reading to book for this they will pay more attention to the conversations that Rubashov has with other cell mates and his love for Avolra. The reader would also want to pay attention to the conflict that Rubashov has with himself.
Darkness at Noon was written to give a person an image about what would happen if one was a communist and was trying to change the world. There is so many things that go on in the book that it is very hard for a reader to grasp one concept before Koestler is already going on and almost done with the next thing that the reader should grasp. If one was to read this book they should be older and be able to understand more of the themes in the story rather than to read it at a young age and not being able to understand what they are reading while they are reading the novel.
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on July 30, 2001
Koestler's "Darkness at Noon" is a magnificent book, no doubt about it. However, I believe that the current reviews are a bit mistaken in their depiction of Koestler's argument.
First, it is important to undrestand that "Darkness at Noon" is semi-biographical. The experiences involved seem to indicate tha the main character is in truth the Russian intellectual Bukharin, whom Lenin had wanted to succeed himself. Physically speaking, the main character resembles Trotsky. It's likely that these resemblances suggest that Russian socialism could perhaps have worked better under a leader other than Stalin.
The common perception that Koestler was demonstrating the "evils" of communism is naive and rather unperceptive. Koestler believed hat Russian communism ultimately failed as a system because it failed to address the spiritual side of man. The "new man" created by their social structure devoid of traditional bourgeoise moral value was abominable.
The movement inspires a complete commitment to it; so much, that one sacrifices oneself for the greater good. The individual is completely lost here. Koestler ultimately determines that this is unethical, that progressive "history" is unworthy of the sacrifice of millions of individual lives.
But are these flaws latent in communism within the specific context of the novel? Probably not. Koestler was a great critic of Stalin and Utopianism... but it's doubtful he would have considered communism "evil" or have attempted to expose it as such.
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on February 2, 2001
Before addressing one of the finest examples of modern literature, let's get one thing out of the way: President Bill Clinton bears no resemblance to Rubashov, the protagonist in Arthur Koestler's classic Darkness at Noon. At least not a positive one which he wanted aide Sidney Blumenthal to believe when he compared his own prosecution to that of Rubashov.
Briefly, both men pleaded innocent before ultimately admitting their guilt. That's about where the similarity ends. Although certainly guilty of other things, Rubashov was innocent of the crimes of which he was accused.
Rubashov accepted his punishment - his debt to the past. Clinton? Well, we all know that story. Maybe too much of that story.
Immediately following the Russian Revolution of 1917, debate and open discussion were the norm among the party faithful who labored so diligently to bring the party to power. By the 1930's, with the founder of the revolution dead, and "No. 1" firmly in control, criticism is no longer tolerated. Darkness at Noon is a fictionalized account of Stalin's purges of the 1930's in which Nicolas Salmanovitch Rubashov is arrested after years of service to the party.
"BRAVO! THE WOLVES DEVOUR EACH OTHER," declared Rubashov's prison neighbor, No. 402, an unrepentant monarchist, when he is told that Rubashov has been jailed for "political divergencies." He's certainly guilty of crimes, just not those of which he is accused. Has he betrayed the revolution? Only to the extent that the revolution has betrayed the people. Rubashov's rationalizations make sense to him, but they probably would not to the trail of bodies left in his wake. We meet just three of them but know there are more.
The first is Richard, a cell leader in Germany, 1933, where the Nazi government has largely exterminated the party. Richard's death sentence is delivered in a museum under the watchful eye of the Virgin Mary, whose outstretched hands come back to haunt Rubashov in the form of another prisoner, his hands outstretched for bread from his jailers.
Another is Little Lowey; a very different kind of party member than Richard. He has principles. A dock worker and successful party organizer with friends in every pub, Lowey is asked to assist in violating the international boycott against Italy for its aggression in Africa so those "Over There" can continue their industrial growth. This obviously does not sit well with Lowey who is expelled from the party and denounced as an agent provocateur. He hangs himself.
The victim that sheds the most light on the character of Rubashov is his former secretary and lover, Arlova. Her brother and sister-in-law arrested, she is recalled home where she is imprisoned and slated for execution. To the end, she continues to believe Rubashov will come to her defense. Yet, to preserve himself for the continuation of the Revolution, Rubashov remains silent. Her ghost lingers to haunt him in a myriad of ways: when a prisoner is dragged through the prison on his way to being shot, he imagines her in the same situation, wondering if she died in silence; he remembers the back of her neck, knowing that is where traitors are shot; and he remembers the scent she left when she was in his bed.
We also meet Rubashov's interrogators. The first is, like himself, aveteran of the civil war and an old party stalwart. Both interrogator and interrogatee understand it is simply pure chance that their roles are not reversed. Like Rubashov, Ivanov also has some misgivings about the direction the party has taken and he makes the mistake of revealing them to his deputy at the prison. Ivanov's brain meets with a "charge of lead" even before Rubashov's.
The deputy is more direct in his sinister behavior. He has no illusions of serving the people. To him, the ends justify the means. There can be no opposition to what the party says, as personified by No. 1. Any minor dissent is treason deserving of the ultimate penalty.
Most of the characters in Darkness at Noon remain relatively unfurled. They are only important in how they help lead Rubashov to his "grammatical fiction" that the Old Guard is guilty "although not of those deeds of which they accused themselves."
In the end, does Rubashov repent for his disloyalty to the party or for following the party line so faithfully even when it went against his better judgement? He ponders, "And what if, after all if No. 1 were in the right? In here, in dirt and blood and lies, after all and in spite of everything, the grandiose foundations of the future were being laid? Had not history always been an inhumane, unscrupulous builder, mixing its mortar of lies, blood and mud?"
Can an individual who did so much to bring the current power structure into being suddenly disown his own part in what has been built?
Alas, such a conversion is probably impossible for the old Bolshevik. Rubashov is likely not lamenting his own demise at the hands of a corrupt party, just the fact that the party's plan was not followed by the right people.
Of course, today it's become a familiar lie. We last heard it with the collapse of socialism in the old Soviet bloc - the system didn't fail, it was the people who tried to institute it. We'll hear the same thing when the workers paradise that is modern day Cuba disintegrates. They'll also blame it on the U.S. embargo.
We want to believe, when Rubashov says his account with history is being paid by his death, that he has rejected the party and its totalitarian methods. He even allows that maybe the party's course wasn't perfect: "We have thrown overboard all conventions, our sole guiding principle is that of consequent logica; we are sailing without ethical ballast. Perhaps it did not suit mankind to sail without ballast. And perhaps reason alone was a defective compass, which led one on such a winding, twisted course that the goal finally disappeared in the midst."
But such sentiment is quickly extinguished, yielding to the former darkness, "Perhaps the Revolution [came] too early, an abortion with monstrous, deformed limbs." He even compares his situation with that of Moses' forty years in the desert, before he is shown the Promised Land.
Unlike Moses, however, Rubashov dies without this reassurance of a better future. His suffering is futile and senseless.
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on January 29, 2001
Arthur Koestler's "Darkness at Noon" is a manifesto decrying the totalitarian tactics of the Soviet Union during the 1930's. A political prisoner himself, Koestler had a lot to say about the treatment of those who were considered threats to the Communist ideal. Although Koestler does not name the Party or the associated countries, the implications are obvious, including the identity of the Party's leader, who is known simply by the name "No. 1."
The novel concerns a fifty-ish man named Rubashov, a high-ranking Party official, who is imprisoned for suspected acts of dissension against the Party. Placed in a lonely cell, he communicates with the occupant of the neighboring cell by tapping on the interposing wall. He finds that his anonymous neighbor holds a grudge against him for reasons he refuses to reveal. The prison is filled with people considered "enemies" of the Party, victims of snitching and backstabbing from various levels of bureaucracy.
An old friend and battalion commander of Rubashov's, named Ivanov, turns out to be his primary inquisitor. Rubashov and Ivanov have long discussions about the ideals of the Party and how Rubashov is losing faith in a system he once fought so vehemently to establish. The Party's ideals were noble in the beginning, but it gradually became inefficient and underhanded. During his imprisonment, Rubashov recalls Arlova, a secretary with whom he had an affair, who was fired from her job and sentenced to death for suspected political dissension. Rubashov had the chance to save her by testifying in her defense, but doing so could have damaged his own career.
When Ivanov shows some sympathy for Rubashov, he is "removed" and replaced with a stricter interrogator named Gletkin, who uses draconian tactics to wear Rubashov down to the point of confession. Rubashov is accused of various attempted acts of governmental sabotage, including a planned assassination of No. 1. The reader sees that it is not relevant to his "trial" whether or not he actually committed these crimes; they are merely trying to get rid of those who threaten the stability of the Party.
Koestler demonstrates how the creation of the Soviet Union formed a nation of political prisoners. These are the problems of a government that is concerned more with theory than with practice; that is concerned more with ideals than with individuals.
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on October 29, 2000
Arthur Koestler's prose is nothing short of masterful; the reviewer may go on at length, praising it in the hackneyed, cut-and-dried adjectives of critspeak, such as "powerful", "mesmerising", "engrossing". Koestler manages to evoke the chill frostiness of Rubashov's cell, every patch of peeling wall-paint, every twitch of anxiety, every flicker of panic. This is strikingly vivid and absorbing writing, with the characters' psychologies admirably sketched out. The narrative is centred around the experiences of Rubashov, a leading party official, now being detained and interrogated for holding views "oppositional" to official party policy. The novel could be considered tragic in detailing the fall from grace of a man who exercised his power over those below him, and who is then overpowered in turn. Though no direct references are made, Koestler subtly and tellingly alludes to the fact that the setting is Stalin's Russia during the thirties -- (the period of the purgings of the party), -- the mysterious party chief "No. 1" unmistakably cast as Stalin. Allusions are also made to "The Old Man" and the former leader with "slit Tartar eyes" -- clearly Lenin under the thinnest of disguises.
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on September 8, 2000
. . . up to a point. Like Clinton, Rubashov persecuted his enemies ruthlessly and systematically, using the oppressive machinery of the state. Like Clinton, Rubashov abused his authority over underlings for sexual satisfaction. Like Clinton, Rubashov sacrificed others for his own comfort and political goals. Like Clinton, Rubashov was dedicated to a totalitarian ideal to the exclusion of the humane. Like Clinton, Rubashov flirted with betrayal of his country for personal gain.
However, Rubashov and Clinton differ in important ways. In his youthful years, Clinton never put himself in harm's way to advance his idealism. Clinton never confessed to his crimes. Clinton has not yet realized the error of a political philosophy that aggrandizes the state in the name of the people. Clinton still has his faithful, Flavor-Aid-drinking cadres to back him up. Clinton has not yet perceived the cosmic justice of his legal predicament. And Clinton has never given up on revenge.
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