34 / CHRONICLESnMartyrs Inc.nOf Prisons and Ideas by MilovannDjilas, San Diego: Harcourt BracenJovanovich; $17.95.n”When I must define my own views,”nwrites Milovan Djilas in his latestnbook, Of Prisons and Ideas, “I identifynthem as ‘democratic socialist.'” Fornthose who find this oxymoronic, Djilas’nwhole book may seem like annexercise in contortion.nTrue to his earlier autobiographicalnworks, Djilas clings to the purity andnthe intensity of his motives as proofs ofnhis virtue. Long pages on the “idea” (anconcept possibly meaningful in dialecticalnmaterialism) are used to illustratenthe proposition that there is no evil butnthat of self-doubt. If Djilas has evernexperienced any, it is hard to detect itnin his autobiographies, or even in hisnother books.nAside from its literary shortcomingsnDeathlandnInvisibility is a curse that may taxnany man, but for a region to “disappear”ncalls for wholesale murder.nThe smothered scream of the Bulgars,nneither Greek nor Russian,nTurk nor wholly Slav, has movednone American to write a gaspingnnovel and name it The CorpsenDream of N. Petkov (ElmwoodnPark, IL: The Dalkey Archive Press;n$20.00). Thomas McGonigle, annIrishman once married to a Bulgarian,nsets his sorrow to words, in thenbest tradition of a Balkan tale.nWhether The Corpse Dream ofnN. Petkov tells more about Mc­nGonigle or martyred Nikola Petkov,nthe leader of the Bulgarian AgrariannParty executed by Bulgarian Communistsnin 1947, is hard to say. Thenprose, carved into mind-proddingnchunks, speaks of a Bulgaria that isnloved as much as any foreigner cannmanage. Was “he showing character”nor was “he just stupid” asksnMcGonigle of himself, as well as ofnthe hanged hero of his book.nIs there life in Bulgaria, or, fornthat matter, anywhere north of then(repetition, inanity, and sloppiness).nOf Prisons and Ideas is Djilas’ weakestnbook, because it is a triumph of hisndesire to be remembered as a philosopher.nWhatever else he may be, Djilasnfalls far short of qualifying as a seriousnthinker—a writer who perceives bothnPlato and Marx as “the most eminentnrepresentatives of the two tendencies”n(i.e., “idealist” and “materialist” philosophies)ncommands little respect, despitenall his sincerity and suffering.nThat Djilas has suffered, much,ncannot be questioned, though henwould be the last to let anyone forgetnit. Throughout Of Prisons and Ideasnhe concretizes his experiences into annabsolute truth. His numerous referencesnto the beatings he underwentnmay seem like an insult to those whosenspirit has been broken by torments henwas never privy to. It does soundnuplifting to learn that nothing cannbreak a righteous man, but there isnmuch information coming from othernREVISIONSnPindus and south of the Alps? Whyndid the Turkic horsemen, the Bulgars,ncome into Thrace, to confoundnthe Byzantines, and later thenSerbs, the Vlachs, the Magyars,nand the readers of ThomasnMcGonigle’s novel? Why did theynleave the well-defined Volga, stillnbearing their name, and mix withnsubjugated Slavs to cause FriedrichnEngels to remark that the whole ofnBalkans was nothing but an “ethnologicalndung-heap”? As it is, Engels’nwords were conveniently forgottennby the most forgotten tyrants of all:nthe Bulgarian Communists. Exhumednonly by attempts against thenlife of a Polish Pope, or by shortnnotices in British newspapers, ofnlethal umbrella tips used to murdernBulgarian emigres, Bulgars dreamnon, sunk in the soil of Thracenbeyond their furthest reach.nMcGonigle’s apparent personalnobsession with death, his own probablynmore than his hero’s, is setnagainst a backdrop of the Westernnpowers’ indifference: In a nugget,nwe are treated to the spectacle ofngreat U.S. experts. Dean Achesonnand George F. Kennan, preventingnnnsources that indicates otherwise.nA man whose profoundly religiousnnature has been thwarted by the quirksnof his being, Djilas strives mightily toncreate a rational, humanist religion.nThough it is true that prison is anparadigm and that man is of supremenimportance to himself, Djilas’ hubrisnwill not allow him to see himself fornwhat he is: a warrior hooked on righteousness.nIn Yugoslavia, Djilas has been andnstill is hated much, both by his formerncomrades and by his enemies in thenCivil War. Yet, for a man as avowedlynintrospective as Djilas, with such anrecord of personal violence, the selfsatisfactionnhe displays in his autobiographiesnis circumspect, to say the least.nTo a Western conservative, Djilasnhas very littie to offer: spiritually, existentially,nor philosophically. As anquintessential politician, he cannot letngo of socialism, the only reality he canncontemplate for Yugoslavia. As a pow-nan American diplomat from interveningnin N. Petkov’s behalf Whatnmay have clouded the minds ofnthese illuminati may not be toonhard to reconstruct, given today’snheadlines. The same people whongave us Peace in Our Time, fromn1917 until the present, had none ofnMcGonigle’s sensibility to sufferingnnot exclusively their own.nThe Bulgars grope—hands towardsnthe West, spurned kisses tonthe East. The Volga is no longerntheir river, nor is it the Maritsa.n”When Russians break wind,” goesna Balkan joke, “the Bulgarians soilnthemselves.” Mehmed Ali Agea, angrinning Turk, may have donenmore to exculpate them lately thannany of their lords and protectors.nMcGonigle has both a heart andna mind, and we can expect him tonget over Nikola Petkov’s death, likenall decent people. If life is but anchance, death, even McGonigle’s,nis but a cancellation. The brevity ofnour life means little compared tonthe duration of our shame—therenis time enough, maybe more thannmost of us can account for.n