Published to acclaim in 1977, this controversial novel of ideas follows Konrad Rutkowski - professor of medieval history and former Gestapo officer - as he returns to the scene of his war crimes determined to renounce, or perhaps justify, his Nazi past. In a series of letters to a brother-in-law, Rutkowski lays out his ambivalent reactions to war and unthinkable violence, connecting his own swirling ideas to those of some of the major figures of European thought: Plato, St. Augustine, Descartes, Nietzsche, Freud, and others. But the novel is more than an intellectual meditation. Pekic was himself a frequent political agitator and occasional prisoner, and he drew on his first hand knowledge of police methods and life under totalitarianism to paint a chilling portrait of an intellectual acting as a tool of repression. At the same time he questions whether Rutkowski's ideology puts him outside the philosophical tradition he so admires - or if the line separating it from totalitarianism is not as clear as we like to think.
BORISLAV PEKIC was born in 1930 in Podgorica, Yugoslavia. Arrested in 1948 for terrorism, armed rebellion, and espionage after the theft of a few typewriters and mimeographs, Pakic spent five years In prison, where he began to write. Constant trouble with the authorities led him to emigrate to London in the early 1970s. His novels include The Houses of Belgrade (1994) and The Time of Miracles (1994), both published by Northwestern University Press. He died of cancer in 1992 in London. STEPHEN M. DICKEY is an assistant professor of Slavic linguistics at the University of Virginia. Ho cotranslated Mesa Selimovic's Death and the Dorvish (Northwestern, 1996). BOGDAN RAKIC is a visiting associate professor of Slavic literature at Indiana-University. He cotranslated Mesa Selimovic's Death and the Dorvish (Northwestern, 1996) and edited In a Foreign Harbor (Slavica, 2000). He is currently working on Borislav Pekic's literary biography.