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Wolves in the night

Arthur Koestler died this day in 1983, age 77. His great novel Darkness at Noon (1941), concerning the party purges and show trials of Stalin’s Soviet Union, manages to be suspenseful, though its ending is never in doubt; to be specific, though the relevant nations and leaders are never named; to be moving, though it is a novel of ideas. Most of all it finely unravels the psychology of the purges from both sides, the Stalinists who conducted them and the Old Bolsheviks who were sacrificed to them, so that one of the great and horrible mysteries of the century becomes a bit more comprehensible yet no less horrible: "There was no way back for them. Their exit from the stage happened strictly according to the rules of their strange game. The public expected no swan songs of them. They had to act according to the textbook, and their part was the howling of wolves in the night."

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