illustrator: Vladamir Todorov

"And There Were Murders"

from For the Dead, Either Good or Funny (1997)

... Dilov had released some short stories during the last few years of the Communist regime, notably “Adam’s Rib” and “Down by the Spring,” and prolifically defended science-fiction’s credibility in his articles and interviews, but his next substantial batch of new material has been described as the “manuscripts in the drawer,” meaning they had been prepared in anticipation of imminent regime change and the freedom of expression that entailed. Among these are a short story collection called We and the Others (1990), a brief historical memoir called Sex Life Under Totalitarianism (1993), and a difficult to categorize gathering of anecdotes entitled Impressions from a Planet: Notes of a Science-Fiction Writer (1990). The “manuscripts in a drawer” nomen was only selectively applied at the time, indicating a perceived distinction between those who were legitimately oppressed and those who didn’t have much to say anyway...

In For the Dead, Either Good or Funny (1997), fellows of the author, all Bulgarian, who had preceded him in death are commemorated with intimate recountings that are united by one purpose: cheer. It is a continuation of Dilov’s reflections on the Communist era, and again uses contemporary history, rather than SF, as the stand-in vehicle for the real discussion...

--Science Fiction Research Association Review

Georgi Markov was a dissident Bulgarian writer. Circa 1969, he emigrated to London, where he continued to produce anti-Zhivkov content and where , in 1978, he was ultimately killed in the now infamous ‘umbrella murder’. His name was never mentioned in state media until 1989. No one has been ever been charged for his murder.

We were still the youngest generation of SBP (Writers Union of Bulgaria), when Ivan Radoev was shouting,

“What a generation we are! What kind of poets are we? Why has no one commited suicide?”

And it actually was getting to be suspicious! So many years of “socialism”, and no poet had committed suicide! In this respect, the Soviet Union, from which we were obliged to learn, stood as a reproach to us. Had guild pragmatism been imposed on us? Had Furnadzhiev's verses come true?

All the flags have been long been asleep,

And instead of the sun a night lamp glows

And in the night, a shameful shine

All of the poets, building their homes.

Shortly afterwards, however, the poet Penyo Penev did commit suicide. The critic of our generation, Minko Nikolov, committed suicide. However, some of our rulers found suicide insufficient, so they resorted to other methods. Tsvetan Marangozov was expelled from Bulgaria. Our most original post-war poet, Konstantin Pavlov, was frozen for a long time with deadly threats. Fortunately, they failed to kill them, at least physically. So maybe they resorted to murder having forgetten that when you kill a writer, they become twice as alive. That’s what happened to Georgi Markov.

He was from our generation, he was friends with us and he felt good in our circles. But just like in a runners’ race, someone is always looking to break away from the pack to be in the lead, so he was constantly and quite loudly trying to lead our young belles-lettres. Perhaps this feverish ambition of his was just attention-grabbing. It’s probably normal and necessary for every profession, but in those days the ruling ideologues constantly suggested to us that we should be modest. Now I see that they had a certain self-interest in this, but we succumbed to their suggestions then, so behavior like that of Georgi Markov did not seem very decent. We justified it with his illness. His tuberculosis hadn’t been cured, he always had a fever, and this disease, I have heard, inflames one’s thirst for life and self-imposition over others.

At Nikola Bukov's villa in the village of Gherman, probably under the influence of wine, the good weather, and our young blood, we started jumping on the external stone stairs - only we were seeing who could jump up the highest. One after another we dropped out of the competition - Tsvetan Stoyanov, me, Bukcheto, as we called the artist. Konstantin Pavlov, practically an acrobat, agile, light, a country boy, jumped to the highest steps - a full two steps ahead! Georgi Markov, however, did not allow anyone to be better than him in anything. He was trembling on the cement stairs! His whole body was shaking from his ambition, he had less than one step to catch up with Konstantin Pavlov. I burned my hand touching his forehead. He had a fever but we could barely force him to stop his further attempts. I remember I was afraid for him then for such reckless ambition. But at other times this ambition readied me, ironically. Especially when he jumped on me without any hint of joking,

“Tell me how Efrem Karanfilov can list you ahead of me!”

Before that moment, I had no idea where or why Efrem Karanfilov had “listed” me, but I told him mockingly to go ask him for an explanation, not me. A few days later I found out: while taking a critical view on the Month of the Bulgarian Short Story in Vecherni Novini newspaper, to which I had never contributed, Efrem Karanfilov had rebuked the editorial board for not trying to ensure the participation of some of the best young storytellers such as Lyuben Dilov, Vasil Popov, Georgi Markov, and others.

“Jerry,” I told him, “you were ready to kill me over not even participating, what would you do if we had participated?”

He was able to laugh at himself back then, and he didn't get upset when he learned that we were calling him Crazy Jerry.

In my archive, there are group photos from Lovech where we were invited to a literary reading at the then German college. The photos were taken by a college student with a primitive camera, but anyone prone to mysticism would interpret them as prophetic. Behind us is the bus that would take us back to Sofia, and Georgi Markov, in the middle of a hot June, is waving an old-fashioned umbrella that was ridiculous because of the sunny days and our youthfulness.

He was killed at a bus stop in London, with an umbrella containing a mechanism that fires a poisonous pellet.

Our group was well composed: the two poets Parvan Stefanov and Lyubomir Levchev, two fiction writers - Georgi Markov and me. Accordingly, our program was thoughtfully diverse. The euphoric Jerry was always getting enthused,

“We’ll travel all around Bulgaria with this line-up. We’ll blow their minds!”

I don't remember who all exactly, but Jerry was always threatening to blow somebody's mind. He always wanted to win, to conquer. It could even be that he first left Bulgaria for reasons that weren’t political at all. He may have figured that he’d conquered enough of it for him to head off for Europe.

Our stay in Lovech, although at the invitation of the Teachers' Council, began with panic. The director hadn't expected us to be so young, owing to our already fortunate popularity, so he ran off to give orders on how to protect his female colleagues from us. Or us from them - I don’t remember anymore! We noticed that the eternally distracted and self-unaware Parvan Stefanov was wearing two different socks on his feet - one red and one blue. Thank God the socks turned out to be the same; he had just put one on inside out, and while we waited for the director to return and while one of us guarded the door, he managed to turn the red sock out on its blue side. Or vice versa - I don’t remember that, either! However, I am no mystic, so I cannot interpret this particular instance as being prophetic for today's times.

We had some experience so our reading went wonderfully. We reaped great success: Parvan Stefanov with love poems, Lyubomir Levchev with revolutionary threats to the world, Jerry, who had just gotten divorced, had written a wonderful story entitled “Splitting Things Up”, and I finished with something both romantic and humorous. They fed us, watered us, and put us to sleep in a separate small building which was, as we found out later, the empty college clinic. In the morning, we found the beautiful literature teacher in the hallway in front of our room. The director had ordered her to sleep in front of our door to guard us.

Jerry put his arm around her shoulders,

“Dear girl, you should have joined us, we would have been happy to see you.”

Right at that moment, I'm not so sure we were happy to see her, but we were quite embarrassed. She must have heard every frivolity of young men, inspired by alcohol and female colleagues, who usually talk high and loud. Jerry’s joking rebuke was just his attempt to cover up our embarrassment.

By the way, in the same way, through his death, he covered up the self-delusions of our whole generation and its shameful compromises.

Today I think: when we look at the murder of our former friend and colleague, we will not guiltily separate him from ourselves. We will love him, and we will forgive him, as we loved and forgave him then, before he openly rebelled against the totalitarianism in our country, which freezes creativity. He had left it temporarily, but he was sure he would return in the most permanent way. His ambitious urge to always come to the fore naturally turned him into the scapegoat of what our generation did not dare do.