...Koestler’s depiction of one communist’s crisis of faith remains essential reading. Darkness at Noon may or may not answer the question why so many Old Bolsheviks really went crawling to their deaths, but it does clarify why they had been (and their intellectual heirs still were) prepared to send those who were in the way to theirs. Koestler had only recently abandoned communism (Darkness at Noon is also a reckoning with his own past), but he never shook off the transcendental longing it once satisfied. As such, he was ideally equipped to explain that creed’s millenarian appeal, and the ferocity that its imposition would inevitably bring in its wake ... While Hardy’s original translation and Philip Boehm’s new one retell very similar stories, the differences between them add up, and are worth noting both for their style and for the way they convey Koestler’s message. Mr. Boehm has a long track record in literary translation—and it shows ... Overall, and unsurprisingly, Mr. Boehm’s translation is better and more readable. It also enjoys a superior claim to authenticity. But it will never have the historical influence of Hardy’s. Meanwhile, the brilliance of her title, with its layers of meaning, will remain, as it should, undimmed.
When it was first published in 1940, Arthur Koestler’s dystopian indictment of Stalinism, Darkness at Noon, was hailed as a seminal work. The bestselling story of a once-powerful Soviet revolutionary, who is arrested and tried for treason by the regime he helped establish, was deemed 'a piece of brilliant literature' by George Orwell. Today it is regarded as one of the works that alerted the west to the realities of Stalin’s regime and is one of the most celebrated political novels of the 20th century. Now, almost 80 years later, the Hungarian-British author’s original text is being published in English for the first time after a German student discovered a carbon copy that had been lost since 1940 ... Scammell writes that Boehm’s translation turns Koestler’s novel into 'a crisper read' than before. 'The prose is tighter, the dialogue clearer, the tone more ironic, and the intricacies of Marxist-Leninist dialectics more digestible … The effect for the reader is of chancing upon a familiar painting that has had layers of varnish and dust removed to reveal images and colours in a much brighter light.'
Darkness at Noon is certainly dated, in the sense that an effort of imagination is needed to enter into its time and place. But its central theme will probably always seem timely, because every political creed must eventually face the question of whether noble ends can justify evil means ... Much of the power of the book comes from its journalistic immediacy and the authenticity of its details ... But the real plot of Darkness at Noon is almost entirely internal ... At its core, Darkness at Noon treats Stalinism as a philosophical problem. But was it? Doubtless, most of the crimes committed in its name stemmed from more ordinary motives, like greed, fear, and hatred, just as the defendants of the Moscow Trials confessed largely out of terror and exhaustion rather than as penitence for existential guilt. Still, Koestler saw that, in the modern world, it took the ruthlessness of an idea to marshal ordinary human cruelty into an irresistible force. It is this distrust of the tyrannical power of reason, even when it considers itself most righteous and humane, that makes Darkness at Noon a subversive book even today. It is still hard for people who consider themselves enlightened to accept Rubashov’s hard-won conclusion: 'Perhaps thinking everything through to the end was not a healthy thing to do.'