Darkness at Noon
eBook - ePub

Darkness at Noon

A Novel

Arthur Koestler

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  1. 272 pagine
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Darkness at Noon

A Novel

Arthur Koestler

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The newly discovered lost text of Arthur Koestler's modern masterpiece, Darkness at Noon —t he haunting portrait of a revolutionary, imprisoned and tortured under totalitarian rule—is now restored and in a completely new translation. Editor Michael Scammell and translator Philip Boehm bring us a brilliant novel, a remarkable discovery, and a new translation of an international classic.In print continually since 1940, Darkness at Noon has been translated into over 30 languages and is both a stirring novel and a classic anti-fascist text. What makes its popularity and tenacity even more remarkable is that all existing versions of Darkness at Noon are based on a hastily made English translation of the original German by a novice translator at the outbreak of World War II. In 2015, Matthias Weßel stumbled across an entry in the archives of the Zurich Central Library that is a scholar's dream: "Koestler, Arthur. Rubaschow: Roman. Typoskript, März 1940, 326 pages." What he had found was Arthur Koestler's original, complete German manuscript for what would become Darkness at Noon, thought to have been irrevocably lost in the turmoil of the war. With this stunning literary discovery, and a new English translation direct from the primary German manuscript, we can now for the first time read Darkness at Noon as Koestler wrote it. Set in the 1930s at the height of the purge and show trials of a Stalinist Moscow, Darkness at Noon is a haunting portrait of an aging revolutionary, Nicholas Rubashov, who is imprisoned, tortured, and forced through a series of hearings by the Party to which he has dedicated his life. As the pressure to confess preposterous crimes increases, he re-lives a career that embodies the terrible ironies and betrayals of a merciless totalitarian movement masking itself as an instrument of deliverance. Koestler's portrayal of Stalin-era totalitarianism and fascism is as chilling and resonant today as it was in the 1940s and during the Cold War. Rubashov's plight explores the meaning and value of moral choices, the attractions and dangers of idealism, and the corrosiveness of political corruption. Like The Trial, 1984, and Animal Farm, this is a book you should read as a citizen of the world, wherever you are and wherever you come from.

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It is impossible to reign innocently.


The cell door clanged shut behind Rubashov.
He lingered for a few seconds leaning against the door and lit a cigarette. To his right was a cot with two tolerably clean blankets and a straw tick that looked freshly stuffed. The washbasin to his left was missing the stopper, but the faucet worked. The bucket next to that had just been disinfected and did not smell. The side walls were solid brick, so they didn’t resonate, but the heating and drainpipe exits were sealed with plaster and tapping there produced a passable tone. The heating pipe itself also seemed to conduct sound quite well. The window began at eye level and Rubashov could see down into the yard without having to hoist himself up by the bars. So far so good.
He yawned, took off his jacket, rolled it up, and set it on the mattress as a pillow. He looked down into the yard; the snow had a yellowish gleam from the double light of the moon and the electric lanterns. A small circular lane for walking had been shoveled out close to the walls. It was still dark, and the stars shimmered brightly in the cold air despite the lanterns. A sentry posted on the outer wall opposite Rubashov’s cell had shouldered his rifle and was counting out his hundred paces. He stamped his feet with every step, as if on parade, and Rubashov couldn’t decide whether he was doing this because of regulations or because of the cold. Now and then his bayonet shaft flashed with the reflected light from the lanterns.
Standing at the window, Rubashov took off his shoes. He put out his cigarette, placed the stub next to the foot of the cot, and sat down on the straw tick for several minutes. Then he returned to the window. The yard was quiet; the sentry was in the middle of an about-face; Rubashov could make out a patch of Milky Way just above the machine-gun tower. He stretched out on the cot and wrapped himself in the top blanket. It was five in the morning; wake-up probably didn’t happen before seven, not in the winter. He was very sleepy; he figured the interrogations wouldn’t begin for another three or four days, so he took off his pince-nez and set it on the stone tiles next to the cigarette stub, then smiled and shut his eyes. Wrapped in the warm blanket, he felt secure: for the first time in months he wasn’t afraid of his dreams.
A few minutes later, when the warder switched off the light from the outside and peered through the spy hole into the cell, former people’s commissar Rubashov was asleep, with his back turned to the wall. His head lay on his left arm, which jutted out of the bed, straight and stiff but for his hand, which dangled limply at the wrist and twitched as he slept.


One hour earlier, when the two men from the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs sent to arrest him had begun pounding on the door to his apartment, Rubashov had been dreaming that he was being arrested.
The pounding grew louder, and Rubashov struggled to wake up. He had practice in jolting himself out of a nightmare; for years the recurring dream of his first arrest would run its course like clockwork. Now and then he managed by sheer will to stop the clockwork and pull himself out of the dream, but this time it didn’t work: the past weeks had worn him down; he sweated and gasped in his sleep, the clockwork went on humming, and he went on dreaming.
As always, he dreamed that three men had come to arrest him and were pounding on his door: He could see them through the door as they stood outside, banging against the frame. They had brand-new uniforms, the handsome dress of the German dictatorship’s Praetorian Guard; the aggressively barbed cross that was their party’s emblem adorned their caps and sleeves. In their free hand each held a cumbersomely large revolver; their belts smelled of fresh leather. All of a sudden they were inside his room, right in front of his bed. Two were strapping country boys with thick lips and fishlike eyes; the third was short and rotund. They loomed over his bed, brandishing their pistols, so close he could feel their breath. Everything was quiet but for the short fat man’s asthmatic wheezing. Then someone flushed a toilet in one of the upper stories; the water went coursing smoothly through the pipes in the walls.
The clockwork was receding. The pounding on Rubashov’s door grew louder; the two men outside who had come to arrest him took turns pummeling and blowing into their frozen hands. But even though he knew the next part of the dream was particularly excruciating, Rubashov could not wake up; the dream kept going: The three men loom over his bed as he struggles to put on his robe, but one sleeve has turned inside out and he can’t get his arm inside. He tries in vain but he cannot move, he’s completely paralyzed even though everything depends on getting his arm into the sleeve in time. This agonizing state lasts for several seconds, Rubashov groans, he feels his temples breaking out in a cold sweat, the pounding at his door invades his sleep like a distant drumming, his arm under the pillow twitches in a feverish attempt to slip into the sleeve—until at last he feels the pistol butt smashing against his ear.
That first blow always brought release. That was also the moment when he typically woke up, for no matter how many hundreds of times he relived the scene, the pistol always hit him anew. That was the blow that had damaged his hearing. Then he would usually shudder for a bit, while his hand, still stuck under the pillow, would go on twitching as it fumbled for the sleeve, because most of the time before he awoke completely he had to get through the last and worst part of the nightmare—the dizzying, ambiguous feeling that the waking and release were also nothing but a dream, and that in reality he was still lying on the damp stone floor of the dark cell, with a bucket at his feet and a jug of water by his head, along with a saved crust of bread.
The same dazed state lasted several seconds this time as well, since he didn’t know whether his groping hand would touch the bucket or find the switch for the lamp on the nightstand. Then the fog lifted; the light flashed on; Rubashov took a few deep breaths and used his blanket to blot his forehead and the bald spot that was emerging on top. He lay still, his hands folded on his chest, and enjoyed the exhilarating feeling of freedom and safety like someone recuperating from an illness. With reawakened irony he looked up and winked at the oil print of Number One, the leader of the party, which hung over the bed in his room, as well as on the walls of all the neighboring rooms, above or below him, and on all the walls of the building, the city, and the inordinately vast land for which he had fought and suffered and which had now taken him back into its mighty harboring bosom. At this point he was fully awake—but the pounding at his door continued.


The two men from the interior ministry who had come to arrest Rubashov stood in the dark stairwell, deliberating. Vasily, the caretaker who had brought them upstairs, stood in the open elevator, panting with fear. He was a gaunt old man; a broad red scar protruded from the torn collar of the military coat he’d pulled over his nightshirt, giving him a scrofulous appearance. The neck wound came from the civil war, where he’d fought to the end in Rubashov’s partisan regiment. Later Rubashov was posted abroad and Vasily only heard about his former commander from the occasional article in the newspaper that his daughter read aloud in the evening. She recited the speeches Rubashov gave at the party congresses; they were long and difficult to understand, and Vasily could never quite hear in them the voice of the little bearded partisan commander, the Rubashov who could curse so beautifully that even Our Lady of Kazan would have smiled with joy. The caretaker typically dozed off in the middle of these speeches, but he always woke up when his daughter solemnly raised her voice for the closing declarations and the applause. After each of these proclamations—long live the Internationale, long live the world revolution, long live Number One—Vasily would add an “amen,” heartfelt but barely audible so his daughter wouldn’t hear, then he would take off his jacket, cross himself in secret and with a guilty conscience, and go to bed. The oil print of Number One hung over his bed, too, next to a photograph of Rubashov as partisan commander. If they found the photograph they would likely come for him as well.
The stairwell was cold, dark, and very quiet. The younger of the two agents suggested shooting the lock. Vasily propped himself against the elevator door. In his haste he hadn’t put his boots on properly; now his hands were shaking so badly he couldn’t tie the laces. The older of the two men opposed shooting the lock; the arrest should be as inconspicuous as possible. They blew into their frozen hands and resumed their pounding, the younger man using his pistol butt. A woman a few stories down started screaming in a shrill voice. “Tell her to shut up,” the young man said to Vasily.
“Quiet!” Vasily called out. “The authorities are here.”
The woman quieted down at once. The young man proceeded to kick the door with his boot. The whole stairwell boomed; at last the door sprang open.
The two officials in their uniforms stood at Rubashov’s bed, the young one holding his revolver, the old one at attention as before a superior officer. Vasily stayed a step behind them, leaning against the wall. Rubashov was still blotting the sweat off his head; he looked at them with bleary, nearsighted eyes. “Citizen Nikolai Salmanovich Rubashov, we arrest you in the name of the law,” said the younger. Rubashov groped under his pillow for his pince-nez and sat up. With his glasses back on, his eyes had the same expression Vasily and the older official knew from the faux oil prints and photos made during the revolutionary years. The old official stood even more erect; the younger, who had grown up hearing other names, stepped closer to the bed: the other three could see that he was on the verge of committing some brutality—in speech or deed—in order to mask his insecurity.
“Put that revolver away, comrade,” Rubashov said to the young man. “What’s this all about?”
“You just heard: you are under arrest,” said the younger official. “Now stop talking and get dressed.”
“Do you have a warrant?” asked Rubashov.
The older official took a paper from his pocket, handed it to Rubashov, and resumed his stance.
Rubashov read it carefully. “I see,” he said. “But then these things never do tell you anything, do they? To hell with you.”
“Get dressed and make it quick,” said the young man. It was clear that his coarseness was not something he was affecting but part of his character. Well, that’s a fine generation we’ve brought on ourselves, thought Rubashov. He recalled the propaganda posters that always portrayed this younger generation of people with laughing faces. He felt very tired. “Hand me my robe instead of waving your gun about,” he said. The young man turned red but didn’t say anything. The older official handed Rubashov his robe. Rubashov wrestled his arms into the sleeves. “At least this time I managed,” he said with a twisted smile. The other three didn’t understand and said nothing. They watched in silence as Rubashov slowly climbed out of bed and rummaged around for his rumpled clothes. Ever since the woman’s shrill scream the building had been quiet, but they had the feeling the residents were lying awake in their beds, holding their breath.
Then they heard a toilet flush in one of the upper stories; the water passed through the pipes in the walls with a steady rush.


The car that had brought the officials was waiting downstairs outside the entrance—a new American model. It was still dark; the driver had switched on the headlights; the street was asleep or pretending to sleep. They climbed inside—first the young official, then Rubashov, followed by the older man. The driver, also in uniform, set off. As soon as they left the apartment blocks the road ceased to be paved. Even though they were in the middle of the city, completely surrounded by nine- and ten-story high-rises with modern facades, the streets were essentially straight out of the countryside—frozen dirt cart paths scarred with ruts that were filled with powdery snow. The chauffeur drove at a crawl, and the car creaked and groaned like an oxcart despite the high-quality shock absorbers.
The young man couldn’t stand the silence. “Drive faster,” he told the driver.
The driver shrugged his shoulders without turning around. When the three men had climbed in, he had given Rubashov a callous, indifferent look. Rubashov had seen that same expression once before, from an ambulance driver who had picked him up after an accident. The slow, bumpy ride through the dead streets, guided by the jittery beam of the headlights, was hard to bear. “How far is it?” asked Rubashov, without looking at his escorts. He almost added: to the hospital and the operating room. “A good half hour,” said the older official. Rubashov fished some cigarettes out of his pocket, stuck one in his mouth, and automatically offered the pack to the others. The young man declined brusquely; the older took two and handed one to the driver. The driver reached to his cap for a lighter and lit all three, keeping one hand on the steering wheel. Rubashov was annoyed to feel his heart ease a little. Getting sentimental at a time like this, he thought. But he couldn’t resist the temptation to speak and create a modicum of human warmth around him. “A shame about these nice cars,” he said. “They cost a fair amount of hard currency and after half a year on our roads they’re shot to hell.”
“You’re right, our roads are very much underdeveloped,” said the older official. From his tone Rubashov realized the old man had recognized his helplessness. He felt like a dog who’d been tossed a bone, and chose not to speak anymore. But the young man suddenly decided to challenge him: “Are you saying the capitalist countries have better roads?”
Rubashov had to grin. “Have you ever been outside the country?” he asked.
“That doesn’t matter. I know how things are there,” said the young man. “Don’t bother trying to feed me some kind of story.”
“Who do you really take me for?” asked Rubashov very calmly. But he couldn’t help adding: “You really ought to study your party history a little.”
The young man went silent and kept his eyes fixed ahead. All three were quiet. The motor gasped and stalled for the third time and the driver cursed as he restarted it. They bumped along through the outskirts of town, where, judging from the appearance of the wooden shanties, nothing here had changed. The moon hung over their crooked silhouettes, pale and cold.


All the corridors of the magnificent new prison were equipped with pallid electric bulbs that barely lit the iron walkways, the stark whitewashed walls, the cell doors with the names, and the black holes for spying. The dull, lackluster light and the shrill acoustics of their steps on the stone tile floor seemed so familiar that for a few seconds Rubashov toyed with the illusion that he was once again dreaming. He tried to persuade himself that he actually believed this. If you can convince yourself you’re only dreaming, then it really will be just a dream, he thought. He wanted this so badly that he nearly got dizzy—but then right away he felt a suffocating sense of shame. I have to swallow it all with decency, down to the end, he thought. Even if I wind up choking on the last crumb. Meanwhile they had reached cell number 404. A card was hanging over the spy hole, with his name: Nikolai Salmanovich Rubashov. The sight of his name on the card moved him deeply. They’ve prepared everything beautifully, he thought. He wanted to ask the guard for an extra blanket on account of his rheumatism, but the cell door was already clanging shut behind him.


The warder squinted through the spy hole at regular intervals, but Rubashov lay stil...

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