It has been sitting there on the bookshelf forever. I always thought I’d read the four inter-war totalitarian novels: Zamyatin’s “We”, Huxley’s “Brave New World”, Orwell’s slightly late “1984“ and Koestler’s “Darkness at Noon” back in my Uni days. Turns out I hadn’t read Koestler but rather absorbed the gist of it by osmosis through other sources and through people talking about it.
I was inspired to get it off the shelf after reading Kisch in Australia. The novel “Darkness at noon” fully justifies its place in the totalitarian quartet even if we all know from the start that there will be no fairy godmother ending. I especially enjoyed the tale of the East European communist dumped on a train and sent to the USSR after 20 years in prison in his home country who can draw the map of the country blindfolded and is convinced the authorities in his home country put him on a train heading in the wrong direction.
At the conclusion of WWII Kisch wound up back home in Czechoslovakia where he worked for his last few years until his health gave way, becoming ever more leery of the new regime, much in the manner, seemingly, of Rubashov. Kisch had the good fortune to die before he was implicated in the last of the Stalinist show trials – the Slansky trial. Kisch would certainly have been sentenced to death as he actually was a close associate of Slansky, which was not true of all those on trial.
One of those forced to confess at the show trial was Willi Munzenberg’s old lieutenant Otto Katz who apparently extracted a modest revenge on his prosecutors by quoting Rubashov’s confession at his trial.
Koestler managed to traverse the ideological landscape from ardent inter war communist to writer for the Congress for Cultural Freedom after WWII. “Darkness” was written in the immediate aftermath of his break with Stalin at the time of the Soviet-German pact and was his most successful novel. He enjoyed a long career as a successful writer and I actually did read and enjoy his book about the key astronomers “Sleepwalkers“. I’d say it was a great book for any kid who ever said Astronomer when asked what they wanted to be when they grew up. Obviously Koestler was one of us. His joint suicide with his much younger wife in the 1970’s reads rather badly as she was only in her 50s and apparently quite healthy.