27 February 2024

Darkness at Noon - New English Translation Published

When I first read the newly discovered German typescript and decided to push for a new English translation of Arthur Koestler's dystopian novel, Darkness at Noon, I was aware there was a risk involved. When first published in 1941, the novel had been almost buried by the horrors of World War II, then borne aloft to best seller status by the upheavals of the Cold War, but that was in the latter half of the twentieth century and I said to myself, how would it play out in our digital age? Wouldn't it be covered in dust, a dinosaur, impressive in its time, but no longer relevant?

And, I wondered, what about the expense of publishing a new edition? Darkness at Noon had never enjoyed the continuing popularity of  Orwell's 1984 or even Animal Farm (though Orwell had been influenced in his work by Koestler). Could a new translation blow the dust off this relic and remind readers of its continuing relevance? The time seemed ripe, but what if it bombed? What if it turned out to be a terrible waste of time and effort and I ended up with egg all over my face?

Happily it didn't happen. Philip Boehm's new English translation, with my introduction, was published a week and a half ago in both the US (Scribner) and UK (Vintage Classics) and the first reviews have started to come in. "The novel reminds us of a time when literature was felt to be urgently political," according to Adam Kirsch in an extended essay in the New Yorker, "when the critic Lionel Trilling could speak of the dark and bloody crossroads where literature and politics meet. 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... a subversive book even today." Andrew Stuttaford in the Wall Street Journal agrees. Darkness at Noon was "one of the most influential novels of the 20th century, and the 20th century would have been a better century had it been more influential still."  

 

Philip Boehm's new translation is also analyzed and praised for its freshness Stuttaford finds Boehm’s translation "better and more readable" than the old one, with "a superior claim to authenticity," and Aatish Taseer in the online journal, Air Mail, concludes "there is nothing stilted about the new Darkness at Noon, deftly translated by Philip Boehm. It is a seamless, chilling book about the demands ideology makes on truth." 

For anyone who would like to know more about the book, my introduction can be found on line at LitHub, and there will be a public discussion of it in a week from now (see below).

 

ANNOUNCEMENT: ON OCTOBER 7 AT 6.30PM, THERE WILL BE A ROUND TABLE DISCUSSION OF THE NEW TRANSLATION OF "DARKNESS AT NOON" BETWEEN MICHAEL SCAMMELL, PHILIP BOEHM, AND ADAM KIRSCH AT ROOSEVELT HOUSE, 47-49 EAST 65th STREET, NEW YORK, NY 10065.