Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Arthur Koestler

Darkness at Noon:

Number 9 on Modern Library's Best hundred English language novels of the 20th century, Darkness at Noon is another bleak Russian prisoner book, albeit an extremely good one. The book begins with Rubashov waiting to be arrested, the eventual fate of every revolutionary as the revolution moves on without them. He is taken to prison, almost relieved that the wait is over, and left to ponder of what he will be accused. Then through the inner workings of the prison, of which he is intimately familiar, we learn of his history as a leader in the revolution, right up to the point where he is inevitably cast aside as the revolution moves in another direction.

Of the many books written as veiled critiques of Soviet policy, this has to be the least allegorical. No communist pigs or trolley riding vodka swilling cats, just an old man being broken by the system he helped create. There is no Stalin, just "Number 1," nor is there Russia, just "Over there," but it is made perfectly clear what we're talking about.

It is amazing how many issues Koestler touches upon in such a short book. Torture, capital punishment, guilt, idealism, power, isolation, politics... We get to see logic as defined by "the party" being distorted to its most perverse forms. But most of all we get a concise treatise on the abuse of power, how easy it is to lapse into groupthink and not ask questions. Overall, an interesting read that notches the surface of philosophy and leaves a lot to think about.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Chinese Food

This is a menu at a restaurant in Beijing that my brother wandered into last week. Check out the food descriptions, beautiful sentence structure. The water explodes the mutton. Subject verb correlation unrivaled in menu history.