This is the English translation of Hazarski recnik, which was originally written in Serbo-Croatian. The first English edition was published in 1988. In the intervening years, the book has become required reading for many college-level English classes. Dictionary of the Khazars has a very interesting blend of fiction and non-fiction. It is also notable for its literary use of hypertext.
"Pavic knows that after the fall of Khazaria, some Khazars found their way to Spain. He then proceeds to invent special traditions and customs associated with them. And some characters are entirely the products of his fertile imagination, for example, the Khazar Princess Ateh.... Strictly speaking, then, this is not a historical novel. There is no plot in the traditional sense, no extrapolation from bare sources to give flesh and blood to characters. Rather, it is plot and character run wild. The ''facts'' of Khazar and medieval Slavic history, often elusive and ambiguous, are toyed with, made to perform, given extraordinary twists and turns that delight and perplex. However outrageous the flights of fantasy, the charm and gentle humanity of the author are our sure guide in this difficult terrain." (page 377)
Robert Coover wrote about Pavic's novel in his article "He Thinks the Way We Dream", which appeared in The New York Times in the November 20, 1988 issue, in Section 7 starting on page 15. Here are some excerpts from that article:
"...witty and playful... which, with its chronologically disturbed alphabetized entries and its cross-referencing symbols, allows each reader to ''put together the book for himself''... In truth, this is a book that is best read just about any way except cover to cover... The dictionary is divided into three separately alphabetized books or ''sources'' (Christian, Islamic and Hebrew)... The Khazars are said to be a lost people who flourished somewhere in the Balkans (''beyond the mountains,'' as it were) late in the first millennium. Though we are provided with a feast of entertaining folkloric anecdotes and ''legends'' applicable to any such fairy-tale kingdom, the only ''historical'' event chronicled is the ''Khazar polemic,'' a fanciful ninth-century debate among three divines - Jewish, Christian and Muslim - for the souls of the Khazars, a debate from which the Khazars apparently never recovered... This ur-dictionary was a collection of dream observations, ''along with biographies of the most prominent hunters and the captured prey,'' including the participants in the Khazar polemic... The first entry of the first (Christian) book (a similar entry appears at or near the beginning of the other two books as well) is Ateh, the Khazar princess and protectress of the cult of dream hunters... The goal of the dream hunters is to ''plunge into other people's dreams and sleep and from them extract little pieces of Adam-the-precursor's being, composing them into a whole...'' ...Since the computer radical and prophet Ted Nelson first invented the word ''hypertext'' to describe such computer-driven nonsequential writing nearly a quarter of a century ago, there has been a steady, now rapid, growth of disciples to this newest sect of dream hunters... ''For 2,000 years writers have been inventing new ways of writing, but we always had the same way of reading. I tried to change the way we read,'' Milorad Pavic said in a telephone interview in Manhattan. Thus, ''there is no clock'' in his ''lexicon novel,'' ''Dictionary of the Khazars,'' even though it traces more than a millennium in the history of a people who lived along the Danube, leaving only a few archeological traces and a few references in 9th- and 12th-century Christian and Jewish sources before they vanished... ''The Khazars are a metaphor for a small people surviving in between great powers and great religions,'' Mr. Pavic said."
Dictionary of the Khazars is discussed in several enlightening articles in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Summer 1998, Vol. XVIII, No. 2. These include: "Dictionary of the Khazars as an Epistemological Metaphor" by Andreas Leitner (on pages 155-163), "Culture as Memory: On the Poetics of Milorad Pavic" by Dagmar Burkhart (on pages 164-171), "Dictionary of the Khazars as a Khazar Jar" by Rachel Kilbourn Davis (on pages 172-182), and "Chaos, Knowledge, and Desire: Narrative Strategies in Pavic's Dictionary of the Khazars" by Tomislav Z. Longinovic (on pages 183-190).
Bernard Westphal discussed both Dictionary of the Khazars and Marek Halter's novel Le Vent des Khazars in his article "Géocritique des extrêmes: Le royaume khazar dans deux romans contemporains" that was published in the book (Multiple) Europe: Multiple Identity, Multiple Modernity, ed. Monica Spiridon (Bucharest: Ararat Publishing House, University of Bucharest, 2002) on pages 127-142. The Hungarian translation of Westphal's analysis, "Két mai regény a kazár birodalomról", was published in Korunk (Cluj-Napoca, Romania) no. 9 on pages 55-62.
According to Pavic's obituary by Christopher Hawtree in The Independent, it took Pavic 5 years to write Dictionary of the Khazars. Hawtree described the novel as "all-absorbing".
Excerpts from "Postmodernism as Nightmare: Milorad Pavic's Literary Demolition of Yugoslavia" by Andrew Wachtel
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Novels of related interest:
Le Vent des Khazars (The Wind of the Khazars)
Gentlemen of the Road
The Jewish Kingdom of Kuzar
Haham Kral Hazarlı Davut (The Rabbi King, David of Khazaria)
Fictional Literature about the Khazars
Non-fiction books of related interest:
The Jews of Khazaria
The Khazars: A Judeo-Turkish Empire on the Steppes, 7th-11th Centuries AD
The Kuzari: In Defense of the Despised Faith