Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chambers, Koestler and Rand

David Chambers, the grandson of Whittaker Chambers, reviews a new biography about Arthur Koestler. To quote:
While overall, Mr. Scammell's book does justice to Koestler, there are a few occasions in which Mr. Scammell is less than precise. For instance, he attributes part of Koestler's inspiration for writing Darkness at Noon to "the puzzling success of Stalin's show trials of the 1930s."

Perhaps the Moscow show trials appear merely "puzzling" to Mr. Scammell, but they shook many believers at that time to the core. No book has ever explained the inner agony of devoted party members and admirers as Darkness at Noon did. Reviewing the book for TIME magazine in 1941, Whittaker Chambers (my grandfather), wrote,
It moves with the speed, directness, precision and some of the impact of a bullet. More plausibly than any other book yet written, fiction or nonfiction, it gives the answer to one of history's great riddles: Why do Russians confess?

And here is a commentary by Whittaker Chambers himself on Ayn Rand, as well as some additional remarks by William F. Buckley. To quote Mr. Buckley:
I had met Miss Rand three years before that review was published. Her very first words to me (I do not exaggerate) were: “You ahrr too intelligent to believe in Gott.” The critic Wilfrid Sheed once remarked, when I told him the story, “Well, that certainly is an icebreaker.” It was; and we conversed, and did so for two or three years. I used to send her postcards in liturgical Latin: but levity with Miss Rand was not an effective weapon. And when I published Whittaker Chambers’ review, her resentment was so comprehensive that she regularly inquired of all hosts or toastmasters whether she was being invited to a function at which I was also scheduled to appear, because if that was the case, either she would not come; or, if so, only after I had left; or before I arrived. I fear that I put the lady through a great deal of choreographical pain.

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