How to Quiet a Vampire: A Sotie

Borislav Pekic

translated from the Serbo-Croatian
Northwestern University Press 2005 [1977]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2006
In 1965 Konrad Rutkowski, professor of medieval history, returns with his wife to the Dalmatian town of D (presumably Dubrovnik) where he had served in 1943 as a Gestapo officer. From there he writes a series of letters to his brother-in-law, looking back at his wartime experiences. He describes conversations with his superior Steinbrecher, embodiment of the policeman, his encounter with filing clerk Adam Trpkovic and his diabolical umbrella, and the abject results of his attempts to work against the system from inside.

Rutkowski's letters also recount events in the present, as the revival of his wartime memories opens terrible wounds in his psyche and his sanity falters.

"It turns out that God created rain to annoy us, but Satan sent the Umbrella to protect us from rain. The conclusion is unambiguous ... In our subconscious, Satan appears as the Savior... But he's really just a false Messiah, the herald of the End... I don't want to get involved in theological disputes, I don't have time for that, but the indifference of church dogmas to the Umbrella problem is most troubling and testifies to the fact that the demonic conspiracy has penetrated to the very heart of the official faith... that the devil has already carried off many a prelate."
Finally, in a desperate attempt to integrate his past with his ideals, Rutkowski turns his interrogation skills inwards and remakes himself, repudiating both his own unfaceable history and history in general.

Rutkowski's twenty six letters are modelled on, inspired by, or allude to the great works of Western philosophy and the "editor" Borislav Pekic has attached to each the title of one of these: from Marcus Aurelius' Meditations to Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, via works by Plato, Augustine, Abelard, Bergson, Hume, Locke, Nietzsche, Kant, Hegel and more. (There are also endnotes explaining aspects of the background history, in particular the workings of the SS and Gestapo, and referencing the diagnoses of three psychiatrists who subsequently evaluated Rutkowksi's sanity.) Rutkowksi — and Steinbrecher, and Pekic — also invoke philosophers and philosophy directly. The result is to implicate the entire European intellectual tradition in the crimes of the Nazi state.

This is intellectually ambitious and How to Quiet a Vampire is a novel of ideas in a very direct sense. It is never dull, however, but terrifyingly compelling and darkly satirical. It offers us a view of totalitarianism from the inside, an illustration both psychological and philosophical of the corrosive effects of Nazism on the spirit. How to Quiet a Vampire is an extraordinary novel.

Note: How to Quiet a Vampire was first published in Serbian in 1977, as Kako upokojiti vampira.

January 2006

External links:
- buy from or
- review and links at the Complete Review
Related reviews:
- Borislav Pekic - The Apology and the Last Days
- Borislav Pekic - The Houses of Belgrade
- Borislav Pekic - The Time of Miracles
- more Serbo-Croatian literature
- books about World War II
- more war fiction
- books published by Northwestern University Press
- other "best book" selections
%T How to Quiet a Vampire
%S A Sotie
%A Pekic, Borislav
%M Serbo-Croatian
%F Dickey, Stephen M.
%F Rakic, Bogdan
%I Northwestern University Press
%D 2005 [1977]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0810117207
%P 410pp