The rest of the 1941 list are non-bestseller books, chosen for various reasons.
Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler, The Macmillan Company, 1941, 222 pp
This was one of my favorites from 1941 and is a completely intense book about a communist leader who is no longer in favor under Stalin. He has been imprisoned (not for the first time) and undergoes a whole series of "hearings" to convince him to confess to crimes he did not do, for the good of the party. The scene where he is arrested was so moving and touches the reader with that fear of unreasoning authority that I believe all people have buried somewhere deep. The "hearings" portray injustice as it is practiced here on earth with perfect pitch.
The main character has to figure out the ethics of it for himself and to examine his communist beliefs, hopes and dreams, compared to what has become of the revolution as they try to hold onto power. The stable datum for communism is that the end justifies the means. The party is also having trouble getting the masses to understand what communism has done for them. Basically they have a PR problem.
This book will resonate deeply with anyone who has been part of a group or espoused a philosophy that claims to have "answers" for mankind.
The Scum of the Earth, Arthur Koestler, The Macmillan Company, 1941, 287 pp
This one is not fiction but memoir; a harrowing story of prison camps and hiding and running during the early months of World War II. It is one of those stories you never get in the history books they make you read in school.
Basically as the French government continued the ass-kissing of Hitler which led to a German victory over France, all foreigners and especially writers of any left-wing color became suspect and were thrown into French prison camps. Human rights were unknown, red tape and extreme incompetent bureaucracy were rampant. All this was going on as Koestler was writing Darkness at Noon. He is a great writer and he honors many voices of freedom that were permanently silenced, some by their own hand in despair.
It seems to be a law of some kind: when the forces of destruction gain the upper hand, the voices of freedom are not allowed to be heard. But a second law is that they can never be entirely wiped out.
Between Two Worlds, Upton Sinclair, The Viking Press, 1941, 859 pp
This is the second volume in the Lanny Budd series which began in 1940 with World's End. It is very long and gets monotonous at times but it was part of my continuing education on the real story behind our two world wars. This one takes Lanny up to the stock market crash of 1929.
What gets monotonous is the theme of the stupidity of politics between the wars. Also tiresome is Lanny's continuous vacillation between being a wealthy artist or a socialist who works to change the world. He goes through three love affairs, the third being his marriage to a multi-millionaire heiress, largely engineered by his mother and her friends. I suppose that since this is Lanny's true coming of age tale, which is going on during a severe breakdown of the western world, that the story must be told this way. I also suspect it is somewhat autobiographical for Sinclair. The story picks up near the end and at that point I was grateful for the educational aspect of it all, though I still felt it could have been a couple hundred pages shorter.
The Real Life of Sebastion Knight, Vladimir Nabokov, New Directions, 1941, 205pp
I don't really like Nabokov. I read him because it seems that any literary person must know about him and his writings. I feel the same way about Henry James, though thankfully he wrote before 1940, so I don't have to deal with him right now. Anyway, I digress.
I was mystified by this book. It is the story of a writer's life told by his brother after the writer's death. It might be partially autobiographical. Nabokov's first language was Russian; then he learned to write in English. He likes to use big words and literary references. He can really nail people and make them alive, but I am never sure why he writes what he does. I think Russians as a people are mysterious to me and yet I feel a spiritual kinship. I think my Dad had some Russian character in him.
At the end of the book the narrator has a realization: something about how all souls are the same and a living person is a constructed personality that only lasts a lifetime. I agree with this and as far as Nabokov goes, it is a good thing.
A Curtain of Green; Eudora Welty; Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc; 1941; 289 pp
I became interested in Eudora Welty when I learned that one of my favorite singer/songwriters (Kate Campbell) was inspired by Welty's writing. This is her first book and is a collection of short stories. It contains a motley crew of southern small town people. There is violence, insanity and other dark stuff; also a certain nobility of poor people and lots of poverty. She has her own unique voice which is never boring.