Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Arthur Koestler turns 100

Fire of Liberty
Stephen Koch has written a wonderful remembrance of Arthur Koestler who would be 100 years old today. For those either too young to know or just out of the loop on Cold War intellectuals, Arthur Koestler was one of the first fellow traveller aside from George Orwell to reveal to the world the tyrannous nature of the communism especially within the Soviet Union . While the West was generally kept in the dark about Stalin's acts in Ukraine and the various show trials that resulted in the death and imprisonment of millions of Russians and Ukranians by the lies written by New York Times reporter Walter Duranty, they would learn the true nature of this regime when Koestler published his earth shattering novel Darkness at Noon in 1940. In fact, this book was probably one of the most influentual books along with Whittaker Chambers' Witness in convincing President Reagan very early in his life the horrific nature and true evil of the Soviet Union and its satellite states. Don't take my word on the impact of this novel, just read what Koch wrote in his remembrance of Koestler work in the New York Sun:
Yet art it is. "Darkness at Noon" stands not just as a great indictment of the Soviet Terror but as an enduring vision of the diseases of reason. Rubashov, a sometime hero of the Russian Revolution, finds himself a defendant in the purge trials of the late 1930s. The trials are obvious frauds: Rubashov has done nothing wrong. Yet he is doomed: All hope abandon, ye who enter here. Mingling torture with "rational" persuasion, the secret police set out to make Rubashov "confess" to a criminalized revision of his whole existence, condemning everything he has served and believed. They succeed. Rubashov submits and bows before the minions of the lie. His thoughts, he admits, were not always innocent. History has made him "objectively" guilty; if the Revolution must be right, Rubashov must be wrong. It is the triumph of the collective lie over individual truth. Their debate is an insane quarrel about the moral authority of terror and the merits of murder as a higher form of humanism. Rubashov and his killers dance around each other like mongoose and cobra. It is the insidious intellectual passion of their exchange that makes the book so compelling. "Darkness at Noon" is a novel of ideas, but a fierce one, sweeping us to its murderous conclusion with cold, ardently reasoned fury.
Though I enjoyed the wonderful outline and assessment of "Darkness at Noon," I seemed to be drawn more into the story of the risky journey he went through to get this awesome story out to the world. It's rather strange that this hasn't been made into some action/adventure film. Though you'll never see a movie on Koestler, you can always read this:
It puts the young Koestler's own beliefs on trial. He conceived the book at the age of 32, in 1938. By then he was already a somebody. He'd been a star journalist in Weimar. In the German Communist Party, he'd become a favored protege of Willi Munzenberg, that "red eminence" who was a founding father of the culture wars, the Comintern's great propaganda master in Europe.

During the late 1930s, as the Great Terror consumed communism worldwide and Stalin inched toward his alliance with Hitler, Koestler began to back away. In the spring of 1939, with Europe on the brink, the incipient renegade went with his new British girlfriend, Daphne Hardy, to a shabby villa in the south of France, where he began to write the novel. He was hard at work when the Nazi-Soviet Pact precipitated World War II. Koestler hurried back to Paris, still reasoning his way, page by page, toward Rubashov's suicidal submission - working until the French government packed him off to a concentration camp for enemy aliens at Le Vernet.

After a campaign for his release got him back to Paris - and Daphne Hardy - he worked non-stop, barely escaping a second internment, and finished the book. Then France fell. Daphne Hardy managed to spirit her English translation - the only duplicate typescript - across the channel. Koestler's own escape reads like the "Casablanca" without Ingrid Bergman. Forging a false identity, he joined, and then fled, the French Foreign Legion. He finagled false papers. He made his way to the Spanish border; then to Oran; then to Casablanca; then to Lisbon.

When he got to England in November, the Battle of Britain was in full force; the Communists and Nazis were allies; civilization stood on the brink. Koestler was instantly interned - yet again - as an enemy alien. Another campaign got him out, but meanwhile Daphne Hardy had arranged for "Darkness at Noon" to be published by Cape. Koestler walked out of his British prison into fame.
So happy 100th Mr. Koestler and thanks for revealing the truth of the Soviet Tyranny so early. We owe you a debt of gratitude.

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