A celebration and exploration of the freshly translated English-language edition of the 1940 anti-totalitarian classic, Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon. The conversation features Michael Scammell, author of Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth Century Skeptic, who provides the introduction to the new edition; Philip Boehm, playwright, theater director, and translator of Darkness at Noon as well as numerous other works from German and Polish. It’s moderated by Adam Kirsch, an editor at the “Review” section of The Wall Street Journal, a poet, critic, and frequent contributor to The New Yorker and other publications.
Since its publication, Darkness at Noon, the novel that gained Arthur Koestler international fame, has powerfully illuminated the attractions and dangers of idealism, the corrosiveness of political corruption, and the fatal consequence of psychological and ideological fanaticism. Through the story of Nicholas Rubashov, a disillusioned revolutionary imprisoned and tortured by the political party to which he had dedicated his life, Koestler responds to the shock of Joseph Stalin’s political purges and show trials. The story cuts to the heart of what it means to be illegitimately incarcerated and deprived of basic human rights.
Darkness at Noon has been translated into more than 30 languages, but each translation was based on a hastily made English version of the original German manuscript thought to have been lost at the outbreak of World War II.
In 2015, while searching for Koestler correspondence and royalty reports, a German doctoral student made a remarkable discovery in the Zurich Central Library when he came across a cryptic entry: “Koestler, Arthur. Rubaschow: Roman. Typoskript, März 1940, 326 pages.” It was the original and complete German manuscript of Koestler’s masterpiece, allowing for a richer and more nuanced new translation of the book’s complex narrative.
As our guest Michael Scammell put it in The New York Review of Books, reading translations of the newly discovered manuscript “will be like seeing a cleaned oil painting for the first time after the old and discolored varnish has been removed. Objects in the picture will assume their proper proportions, new details will come into view, the brushwork will be more discernible and easier to appreciate, and our understanding of the novel as literature, independent of its time and subject matter, will be enormously enhanced.”
Roosevelt House is grateful to Daniel Shuchman for initiating and co-sponsoring the lecture and reception. Mr. Shuchman is an investor and philanthropist who has been a Darkness at Noon enthusiast since reading it in college. He and his wife, Lori Lesser, have been longtime neighbors and supporters of Hunter College.
Watch the program below.