If you've read both works, you can't talk about The Case of Comrade Tulayev without Koestler's Darkness at Noon. Both books, written by disaffected foIf you've read both works, you can't talk about The Case of Comrade Tulayev without Koestler's Darkness at Noon. Both books, written by disaffected former Communists, and published within two years of each other, deal with the process of the revolution eating its children. Both books attempt to come to grips with the motivations of old guards revolutionaries who seemingly openly acquiesced with their own murder. Of course Darkness at Noon is much more widely known and widely read. There are pretty rational reasons for this that I won't get in to, but none of those reasons have to do with literary merit. In The Case of Comrade Tulayev, Serge accomplished everything that Koestler did, and perhaps more. Upon discovering Serge's novel, it's hard for the reader to resist the urge to dismiss Koestler's. Susan Sontag, in a way, falls prey to this urge in the introduction to this introduction.
However, I'm not sure how necessary it is to emphasize the merits of one book over the other. In fact, while the books seemingly have identical premises and ambitions, further exploration reveals stark differences. I'd argue that the two books relationship is symbiotic, they serve as a exemplary companions to each other. In a way, Serge finishes the thought that Koestler started in Darkness at Noon. If I remember the details correctly, Darkness at Noon takes place at the beginning of the purges, and concerns the history and psychology of one character, Rubashov, a Bukharin stand-in. Comrade Tulayev has a much wider lens.
Serge focuses on around half a dozen characters, each with different backgrounds and different reactions. There's the state security functionary, the provincial peasant turned revolutionary leader, the old party ideologue, and the almost-forgotten political prisoner. They all have their differences, and Serge exploits these differences to meditate on the perversion of the ideal, and the loyalty men feel to old ideas even as a warped form of the same threaten oblivion. Furthermore, The Case of Comrade Tulayev takes place well into the purge of the party. These characters, in a way, are familiar with Darkness at Noon, Rubashov's death is firmly in the past at the opening of Serge's work. Most of these men know with a sense of creeping fatalism what is coming to get them.
Moreover, the novel doesn't focus on the victims of Stalinist paranoia alone. Serge bookends the novel with two chapters examining the the characters behind the titular case, the assassin of Comrade Tulayev and his neighbor, who bought the gun in order to kill Stalin, but found himself unable to act when presented with the golden opportunity. Serge writes with understanding about the cogs of oppression, the functionaries who are attempting to stage an exhibition of guilt that they know is false, but must treat as if it were of the utmost truth. Even the Stalin stand-in is depicted with some empathy. For my money, the scene where the old veteran has to dance the wire of explaining to his old comrade "the boss", the insanity of what is going on, without going too far and sealing his doom is one of the most thrilling pieces of political fiction I've ever read. The penultimate chapter even deals with the legacy of Stalinism on the future generation of young Russians.
Darkness at Noon is the tale of how one man reconciles himself with betrayal and sacrifices himself for a perverted vestige of a dream. The Case of Comrade Tulayev does something similar, but it is also concerned about a broader scope. The two years follwing the publication of Koestler's novel were when Serge did most of his work on Comrade Tulayev. Those two years were not good one's for the Soviet Union. For much of those years the effects of Stalin's paranoia must seem exponentially more cataclysmic than they even do today. Serge may have thought that he was writing Leninism obituary. The Case of Comrade Tulayev reads as a prelude to obliteration. Although Russian Marxism would survive for another half century, The Case of Comrade Tulayev remains an engaging, thoughtful, and often breathtakingly (Serge's prose!)* beautiful account of a people dealing with a reign of scientific insanity.
*Not that I have anything to compare it to, but this edition reads as an extraordinary translation. ...more
Full review to come, but quick thought. Syme has me convinced that Octavian/Caesar/Augustus should be considered one of the most successful revolutionFull review to come, but quick thought. Syme has me convinced that Octavian/Caesar/Augustus should be considered one of the most successful revolutionary leaders of all time, which has me thinking: perhaps the true mark of success for a revolutionary leader is that future generations no longer consider them truly revolutionary? Before I follow that logic to picturing George Will in a beret and Castro beard, I'll leave. Hopefully, more to come......more