Monday, December 7, 2015

Book review: Thieves in the Night: Chronicle of an Experiment

Book review: Thieves in the Night: Chronicle of an Experiment
The Macmillan Company, New York, 1946
357 pages

Koestler, a Hungarian-British writer and journalist, more famously wrote Darkness at Noon, a critique of Communism and totalitarianism. 
Thieves in the Nightwritten later,  is a gently powerful story. Koestler recounts the travails and limited joys of only a few of the milliohnim. His characters are Jews, creating new settlements on purchased Arab land in the Holy Land, prior to World War II.

Creating settlements is a tough life. A reader like me learns almost too much about the vagaries and drudgery of deliberately, fully conscious communal life on Ezra's Tower, an isolated hilltop in Galilee. First, establish the security perimeter, then erect the watchtower, build the children's dorm, construct the cowshed, set up the showers…in that order. The dining hall, the sleeping huts for the men and women, and the lavatories, are to built later. 

The Mukhtar and his clan in the nearby Arab village do not welcome the Hebrew newcomers. Soon, the leader of the village delegation gives morbid advice to the settlers: "You young fools and children of death, you don't know what may happen to you." Bauman responds, curtly: "We are prepared." The Jewish settlement at Ezra's Tower is not a resort.

The story of the settlers' life at Ezra's Tower is drab. Koestler's exploration of their mindset, their politics and their philosophy and their religion all swirled together, is stunning. Their aspirations and their misgivings, and their palpable legacy of homelessness and their transforming experiences, are irresistible. 

Thieves in the Night is an adventure for the open and inquiring mind. Occasional sympathetic despair is a perfectly understandable reaction.

After you read this novel, look around you and ask yourself if you see things a bit differently. Ask yourself if you like your new conception of "a thief in the night."

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

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