Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler

Arthur Koestler, who lived one of the great adventuring lives of the 20th century, has in death left us one last surprise. When, on March 1, 1983, the 77-year-old Hungarian-born writer entered into a suicide pact with his much younger wife, Cynthia, months after discovering he had leukemia, it was thought—including by Koestler himself—that the full original German manuscript of his finest novel, Darkness at Noon, was lost. Recalling the extraordinary circumstances under which the book was completed, in Paris in 1940—arrests, searches, seizures, and internment in French concentration camps—Koestler, in the second volume of his autobiography, Invisible Writing, recalls, “In the end, I was again arrested and the original German version of the book was lost. But by that time the English translation had been completed. It was dispatched to London ten days before the German invasion of France started, and the book thus had another narrow escape.”

The translator of this early and devastating indictment of Stalin’s show trials was Daphne Hardy, a 22-year-old English sculptress whom Koestler was sleeping with at the time. In a cramped apartment on Rue Dombasle, a curtain hanging between them, Koestler wrote and Hardy translated as the Phoney War outside grew ever more real. Each made a terrifying escape to England, where the couple was re-united “across wire-mesh in the presence of a uniformed guard” in a London prison—Koestler, who lacked an entry permit, having been arrested on arrival. By then the page proofs of what was first called “The Vicious Circle” were ready. Hardy informed Koestler of the new English title, which Michael Scammell, Koestler’s biographer, tells us she derived from the Book of Job: “They meet with darkness in the daytime, and grope in the noonday as in the night.” It was Hardy’s translation—her first and, quite literally, a labor of love—which went on to become a modern classic, translated into more than 30 languages, a staple of poli-sci reading lists in America (where I first read it) and credited with playing a part in the defeat of the Communist Party in postwar France, where it sold over 400,000 copies.