ForwardDictionary of the Khazars is a work of fiction written by Milorad Pavic relating to the factual khanate of the Khazars, the actual, yet debatable and certainly obscure, conversion of the Khazars to Judaism and the mysterious remnants of the Khazar civilisation * * * ChristianityWorld religion to which the Khazars did not convert to Christian sources form one part of the potentially annoying Dictionary of the Khazars.ConversionProcess of change from one state to another typically undergone by the attentive reader.DictionaryAssemblage of words in alphabetical order with definitions explaining the meaning of the words to the curious reader Dictionaries have a wider cultural significance in capturing the essence of the time and place of the compilation, and thus of the changing soul of a people like the indentation of a person's body left behind upon the sand Milorad Pavic's Dictionary of the Khazars is an exemplar of this Dictionary of the KhazarsMysterious work compiled from Christian, Jewish and Muslim accounts of, and surviving knowledge about, the Khazars each forming a dictionary which cross references the other two A novel by Milorad Pavic.FictionNot fact, at least not intentionally.IslamWorld religion to which the Khazars did not convert to Muslim sources form one part of the inventive Dictionary of the Khazars.JudaismWorld religion not noted for proselytising, but for the curious exception of the conversion of the pagan Khazars in the eighth century, a incident revisited from various perspectives in Milorad Pavic's Dictionary of the Khazars Jewish sources form one part of the enigmatic Dictionary of the Khazars KhazarsSeminomadic Turkic steppe people who formed a state to the north of the Black and Caspian seas which despite dealings with both the Christian Byzantine Empire and the Muslim Umayyad Caliphate converted to Judaism in the eighth century In the midninth century Prince Sviatoslav of Kiev destroyed the Khazar khanate The Khazars left no writings of their own behind them They can only be known through what was written about them by Christian, Jewish and Muslim sources Some scraps of surviving information about the Khazars were later gathered into a curious book known as the Dictionary of the Khazars.Milorad PavicWriter born in Yugoslavia known for playful works such as Dictionary of the Khazars, a novel written in the form of a dictionary in which the reader assumes an active part in creating in the story through which definitions and in what order they chose to read them.ReaderYou To be confused with the author of this work.YugoslaviaFormer country not destroyed by Prince Sviatoslav of Kiev in the ninth century As memory fades only approachable through myth and story If the stories of the peoples and faiths of that former country could be gathered together, perhaps in some kind of a literary dictionary, what countries could be assembled in the minds of the readers? Dictionary of the Khazars is a heap of a novel or, probably, even a mountain – everything: religion, mythology, history, mysticism, faith, beliefs and superstitions are packed in a huge pile and every reader must sort it out one’s own way.Avram Brankovich's second, younger son was at the time stretched out somewhere in Bachka behind a motley stove built like a church, and he was suffering It was rud that the devil had pissed on him and that the child would get up at night, flee from the house, and clean the streets For at night Mora sucked him, she nibbled at his heels, and man's milk flowed from his breasts.It is the magical realism eastern style – a Gothic phantasmagoria blended with a fine mockery.History is an extravagant tapestry or, probably, a lampoon…Sevast, Nikon (17th century) – It is believed that at one time Satan lived under this name in the Ovchar gorge on the Morava River, in the Balkans He was unusually gentle, addressed all men by his own name: Sevast, and worked as the head calligrapher at the St Nicholas Monastery Wherever he sat, however, he left an imprint of two faces, and in place of a tail he had a nose He claimed that in his previous life he had been the devil in the Jewish hell and had served Belial and Gebhurah, had buried golems in the attics of synagogues, and one autumn, when the birds had poisonous droppings that seared the leaves and grass they soiled, had hired a man to kill him This enabled him to cross over from the Jewish to the Christian hell, and now in his new life he served Lucifer.Whatever religion you’re into the Devil will find you… 5 minutes ago some customer at my job proceeded to tell me about an episode of Doctor Phil he saw where an obese women lost weight by smoking crack (this is the third time today this man has told me this story.) Then he saw this book on my desk and said Oh god, you're not really into that stuff are you? I don't know what he assumed this book was about, I just finished it and I'm still not quite sure what it's about (but it was great, that much I know.) Apparently what ever he thought it was about frightened him enough for him to stop talking about that damn episode of doctor Phil and finally leave me aloneand for that I give this book 5 stars. What a mad wild swirling cocktail of a book Suicide, the children's definition: The sodafountain concoction that results when you mix a little of every flavor in one big cup.Imagine such a slushy stir of Italo Calvino, Angela Carter, Jorge Luis Borges, Umberto Eco, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, David Mitchell, Jan Potocki, and a healthy slug of Sheharazade.The Facts: In the 8th Century the seminomadic Khazars sat at the EastWest tollbooth junction on the Silk Road, providing buffer state status to its powerful neighbors Byzantium, Russia, Persia, Arabia, and the Turks In this novel the gaps in the history are filled in with fabulist abandon The culture of the extinct Khazars survives only in scattered fragments of texts from competing sources, who all have their own tinted views and selfserving interpretations, documenting events and personages from before, during, and after The Khazar Polemic.The Khazar Polemic: early Khazar religion remains mysterious, but it seems the leader of the Khazars found it insufficient in explaining a portentious dream of his He summoned representatives of the three main regional faiths, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, to interpret his dream, vowing to convertpersonally and his stateto the religion of the sage with the most convincing interpretation.Naturally, each of them claimed to be the winner later Each religion's extant texts on the subject amount only to fragments loosely gathered under general headings: names of groups or sects within Khazar society, prominent personages, significant events, folk wisdom, occupations, musical techniques, foods, salt, spirits, and demons This novel is the collection of three dictionariesor encyclopediæ, really: The Red Book, The Green Book, and The Yellow Book, or the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish dictionaries respectively.Dictionary Entries: this is a little misleading as they are no mere definitions, but usually an explanatory story (or two, or three, often darkened by intrigue, enlivened by the fantastical), presented within the larger story of The Khazar Polemic Key terms and names are marked with symbols to indicate their appearance in the other dictionaries Naturally the duplicate entries are not identical, so the conflicting definitions produce a lexicographical Rashomon Effect, through which the absent voice of the disappeared Khazars attempts to speak.That Khazar Voice: tells of murder, romance, conspiracy, curses, revenge, tattoos, adventure, trickery, an enchanted chicken, timewarping mirrors, dopplegangers, golems, ghosts, a noblewoman with two thumbs per hand like thismagic, monsters, miracles, andespeciallydreams These murky tangled tales set root in the soil of history's hidden mysteries then sprout like vines with tendrils extending into the future, reaching across centuries and coiling about events long following, even into the present day(view spoiler)[, wreaking vengeance on modern academics (hide spoiler)] A national bestseller, Dictionary of the Khazars was cited by The New York Times Book Review as one of the best books of the year Written in two versions, male and female both available in Vintage International, which are identical save for seventeen crucial lines, Dictionary is the imaginary book of knowledge of the Khazars, a people who flourished somewhere beyond Transylvania between the seventh and ninth centuries Eschewing conventional narrative and plot, this lexicon novel combines the dictionaries of the world's three major religions with entries that leap between past and future, featuring three unruly wise men, a book printed in poison ink, suicide by mirrors, a chimerical princess, a sect of priests who can infiltrate one's dreams, romances between the living and the dead, and much Bᴜᴅᴠᴀ—A town on the Montenegrin coast, pop 13,000 According to Stephanus of Byzantium, writing in the 6th century CE, Budva was founded by Cadmus, the grandson of Poseidon and first king of Thebes, who had journeyed up the coast in his old age with his wife Harmonia Inhabited for at least 2,500 years, Budva is one of the oldest settlements on the Adriatic, and the centre of Montenegro's small but important tourist industry It was here in 2007 that Warwickº bought a copy of Dictionary of the Khazars by Milorad Pavićº, which was the first Englishlanguage book he had seen during his trip His diary records that he carried the novel with him to a restaurant that evening, where the owner ‘showed off a platter of fish that his son had just caught Hannah picked out a sea bass, and they cooked it right there on a grill in the corner’ The owner, having made sure that his guests had finished eating, then sat down at their table and joined them to finish a bottle of homemade bearberry rakia which Hannah later described as ‘gruelling’ and blamed for a nosebleed That Pavić's book was used as a coaster on this occasion can be seen from the many pale rings on its back cover, which resemble the icon of an otherworldly Olympics in which all competitors finished last When the pair, staggering slightly, got back to their tiny hotel room after dinner, there was a nasty surprise waiting Tucked into an alcove in the wall of their room was the most terrifying oil painting either had ever seen It showed a blackclad old woman glaring out at the world with an expression of concentrated hatred; it had been halfconcealed when they had taken the room, but now, from the bed, it looked down on them like a prop from the staging of an Edgar Allen Poe story Turning the lights out did not help, since a quirk of the shutters meant that a single shaft of moonlight landed precisely on the crone's furious face Under such circumstances, reading, like other activities, was out of the question, and the two of them lay awake all night, wideeyed and motionless In the morning, Warwick pushed Pavić's novel unread into his backpack, where it remained for the duration of their holiday.Dɪᴄᴛɪᴏɴᴀʀʏ—A collection of words, arranged in order, for the purposes of explanation or translation Bilingual Sumerian–Akkadian wordlists have been excavated from Ebla (modern Syria), meaning that dictionaries as a concept go back nearly four and a half millennia The Goodreads reviewer Warwickº has sixtyeight of them on his shelves (at least according to the tags), although Dictionary of the Khazars, of course, being a novel, is not among them Even Milorad Pavićº, the author, does not present his book as a dictionary strictly socalled, but rather as a kind of encyclopaedia In reality, there exists no dictionary of the language spoken by the Khazarsº, who used an unknown tongue of which only a single word has come down to us: OKHQURŪM, an offhand scrawl at the bottom of a letter written in a runiform Old Turkic script to the Jewish community of Kiev in around 930 Scholars think it means ‘We have read it’ From this we can conclude that historical linguistics is not a field untouched by irony A dictionary is not a novel; yet all lovers of dictionaries will be aware of the ghostnarrative that can arise from flicking through one, and allowing connections to spark between the words serendipitously encountered.Kʜᴀᴢᴀʀs—A Turkic people of Central Asia, who for centuries had a powerful empire astride the Silk Road, until they disappeared into obscurity sometime around the tenth century In his novel Dictionary of the Khazars, Milorad Pavićº tells a number of strange legends and anecdotes about their society and lifestyle, a few of which are real but most of which are elegant fabrications One effect of the novel is to make their fate seem universal: in some sense, Pavić seems to suggest, we are all Khazars, awaiting our own extinction, looking ahead to a future when, ultimately, we will pass out of all memory and understanding There are also some willy jokes.Pᴀᴠɪᴄ́, Mɪʟᴏʀᴀᴅ (1929–2009)—Pavić was born into a family of artists and poets in Belgrade and was, perhaps, always fated to assume his role as Serbia's most famous modern writer As a child, it was said that he could remember the details of all his dreams, and would recite them at length to people, only occasionally falling silent, as though on the brink of some unsayable revelation His first novel, Dictionary of the Khazars, came only in his midfifties when he had turned his back on poetry, though the renunciation was only nominal: the book reads as much like poetry as it does any traditional novel Written in the hypertextual form of a dictionaryº, it was hailed as the first novel of the twentyfirst century The year was 1984 When Warwickº bought a copy of the novel in Budvaº, in 2007, Pavić might easily have been described as Serbia's greatest living writer; by the time he actually read the book, Pavić had been dead for nearly a decade, his own life, like those of his Khazars, beginning its slow journey from news to history to legend to forgetting.Pʀɪʙɪᴄ́ᴇᴠɪᴄ́Zᴏʀɪᴄ́, Cʜʀɪsᴛɪɴᴀ—Born in New York, PribićevićZorić already had a smattering of Slavic (thanks to her Yugoslavian father) when she moved to Belgrade for a year as a postgraduate She stayed forthan twenty Her English translation of Dictionary of the Khazars by Milorad Pavićº is fluent and poetic and gives you a good idea of why native speakers hold him in such regard She has translated from ‘Serbian’, ‘Croatian’ and ‘Bosnian’, which are all really slight variants on the same dialect – we used to call SerboCroatian, until political motivations inspired a linguistic breakup In 2007, when Warwick bought his copy of the book in Montenegro, the Montenegrins still considered themselves to be speaking Serbian, though soon afterwards they began to call it ‘Montenegrin’ One or two words then take on talismanic proportions – the word for bread, hljeb, which is pronounced locally withpalatalisation than Serbian hleb, suddenly becomes almost a national symbol The Balkanisation of languages in the Balkans can give you an insight into why the subject of a lost dictionaryº – especially when it exists in multiple, contradictory versions, as here – might be an appealing subject for a writer from Yugoslavia.Wᴀʀᴡɪᴄᴋ (ʙ 1978)—Englishborn lapsed journalist and the author of this review Of the thousands of books on his shelves, a few volumes have got lost or become unaccounted for over the years, during house moves or reorganisations or illadvised lendingouts to unscrupulous extended family members Occasionally, though, these reappear again some years later, unexpectedly, dropping out from behind a jolted shelf or tumbling from the forgotten pouch of an old bag, and forcing a sudden clash between the state of your life as it was then, when you bought it, and the state of your life now, as you stare, baffled, at the faded paperback So it was with Warwick's copy of Milorad Pavić'sº first novel about the Khazarsº, which somehow survived being dragged across the Balkans, stuffed in an attic in Kent, put in storage in Lincolnshire, anonymously and serially stashed in three Paris apartments and transited across twointernational borders, before finally being read in a week of commutes to Zurich The girl he bought it with is now his wife, the jobs they do are different, the places they live are different, the languages they use are different – so many people and places and languages and times, all of them cannoning together and all of them, eventually, to be lost, completely, just allow for a certain timeframe, to be lost as surely as the Khazars and their unknowable, irrecoverable, undoubtedly beautiful language… I am doing a project in which I read all 1001 of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die as stated by a book in this stupid and arbitrary series of different stuff you have to do before you die It is dumb and I will never finish it, but now that I started, I am pretty set on continuing.The thing that makes it the most dumb is that these books are chosen by someone who has like, really different taste from me I hated Naked Lunch Now I plan to pretty much hate this book, but I guess it could always surprise me I had this therapist once who was like Why are you always doing hard stuff that you don't like instead of stuff that you are good at and enjoy? The fact that I am doing this project signals to me that therapy has failed.Update: Due to my unwillingness to quit this book as well as my stubborn refusal to make any progress in it, I have now basically given up reading Houston, we are at an impasse.Update #2: I have given up on this book, and on my ENTIRE dumb project, not with a sense of defeat, but a strong feeling of triumph. I adore this book I have the impression to live at Renaissance time It is an encyclopaedic project or the imagination competes for it in the reality An esthète pleasure for gentilhomme It should be sold in japon paper cover by calf pure leather, title in gold leaf I have well on bought from the time the male version If I compared to female version, I did not find that the 17 lines of difference changed so much this book.I remember the writer during the TV program Apostrophe A small discreet and pleasant man.Why this workk is so forgotten while equivalent projects became cult books.I hope this rate help it to recover its row. On DictionariesThis novel isn’t the single dictionary its title suggests In fact, it contains three separate dictionaries, although they areencyclopaedias or encyclopaedic dictionaries Even then, they don’t purport to be complete or comprehensive Each dictionary in this “mosaic portrait” consists of only 14, 15 or 16 entries Of these, only four appear in all three dictionaries (Ateh, Khagan, Khazars, and Khazar Polemic).The only characteristic that justifies the use of the term “dictionary” is the alphabetical arrangement of the terms It can’t really be said that each term is authoritatively defined The entry is really just a springboard for a narrative relating to the term Thus, as the subtitle suggests, the novel is effectively a “lexicon novel” in which the subject matter is not narrated chronologically, but alphabetically.An Alphabetical NarrativeTheoretically, at least, this arrangement allows us to delve into the subject matter spontaneously (“This book can be read in an infinite number of ways It is an open book, and when it is shut it can be added to: just as it has its own former and present lexicographer, so it can acquire new writers, compilers, and continuersThus, the reader can use the book as he sees fit.”), though in fact I read the book from cover to cover, as I would have read any novel, stopping only occasionally to check what had been written about an entry when it had appeared earlier.Thus, from a postmodern point of view, the novel is a wellconceived and executed challenge to the conventional structure of narrative.The Authority of Narratives and NarratorsIt also questions the authority of all narratives (and their narrators), not just in its arrangement, but in its subject matter.The three separate dictionaries purport to be translations from the Greek, Arabic and Hebrew, of three separate but related accounts of the one historic event (although, again, it is possible that there might have been multiple similar events).The Khazar PolemicThe event (known as the Khazar Polemic) was supposed to have occurred in the eighth or ninth century A.D.The Khazars were a tribe of people who lived between the Caspian and the Black Seas They had a king and another leader called a Khagan At the time of the event (one version places it about 740 A.D.), one of its Khagans had a dream in which an angel appeared and said, “God is pleased by your intentions, but not by your deeds.” (also translated as “Your intention is good and acceptable to the Creator, but your deeds are not.”)The Khagan invited representatives of the Christian, Islamic and Jewish religions to come to his court and explain what the dream meant If he was convinced by their explanation, he and his people would convert to their religion.Thus, the Khagan assumes the role of an outsider confronted by the three Abrahamic religions He has to decide which faith he prefers.The Gospel TruthThere is no contemporary evidence of what happened in the Khazar Polemic Like the Christian Gospels, the arguments were recorded subsequently However, there is an added complication: even these subsequent accounts were destroyed, and the only surviving accounts were reconstructed centuries later (in about 1689) Add to this context, the research activities of three academics (one from each faith) who are trying to assess the records and evidence 293 years later in the twentieth century (1982, to be precise).Part of the dramatic tension arises from the fact that the three different accounts differ in which religion is supposed to have prevailed in the competition Each religion claims to have succeeded Originally, I thought that this was suggesting that all three were lying or fabricating their claim (or that all religions were capable of doing so) However, on reflection, I suppose there is a possibility that one account was correct, and that only two were lying Of course, if there had been multiple events (rather than a single one), then it is possible thatthan one was telling the truth about a different event.Powerful InternationalsPavic questions the power structures behind religions: “The point is, you can be either a great scientist or a great violinistonly if you or your accomplishments are supported and backed by one of the powerful internationals of today’s world The Hebrew, Islamic, or Catholic international…” Perhaps, all religions or sources of power are just as bad as one another Pavic writes that “all evil comes from the fact that in this world we are constantly tempted to obey and take for our model those who are worse than we…”Three Choices, One TruthPavic seems to be relatively impartial about which dictionary he prefers, although he does suggest that “later, printed versions [of the Hebrew version] were castrated in the hands of the Christian Inquisition.”On the other hand, he posits the following question: “Perhaps the only way to compile a Khazar encyclopaedia or dictionary on the Khazar question would be to assemble all three stories about the three main dream hunters and thus obtain one truth?” Each dictionary or account, therefore, gives us a different perspective or point of view on the subject matter We readers are challenged to work out what is the truth or, if incapable of doing that, at least to decide whom we are tempted to believe (if anyone) In other words, we are confronted with at least two, if not three, unreliable narrators.Killing the ReaderThis creates a dilemma for the reader: “Every writer can with no trouble kill his hero in just two lines To kill a reader, someone of flesh and blood, it suffices to turn him for a moment into the hero of the book, into the protagonist of the biography The rest is simple…” Thus, when readers suspend disbelief and believe in the truth of what they are reading, they apparently risk their own lives and truth.No Room for Two ScentsPavic nevertheless questions the ability of the reader to synthesise a conclusion about the truth: “When we read, it is not ours to absorb all that is written Our thoughts are jealous and they constantly black out the thoughts of others, for there is not room enough in us for two scents at one time…” Pushing Through Life SidewaysAt times, there are suggestions that the problem lies in language (not necessarily in religion alone): “The truth is transparent and goes unnoticed, whereas lies are opaque and let in neither light nor gaze There is a third version, where the two mix, and this is the most customary With one eye we see through the truth, and that gaze is lost forever in infinity; with the other eye we do not see even an inch through the lies, and that gaze can penetrate no further, but remains on earth and ours; and so we push through life sideways Hence, the truth cannot be understood on its own, like a lie, but only by comparing it with lies, by comparing the white space with the letters of our Book…” The truth stands out against lies, if only we could tell which is which Pavic might have been implying that it's a problem not just in literature, but in life and society as well.Overall, Pavic achieves his postmodern goals with much greater style and flair (the novel often reads like a holy book, a murder mystery, a volume of poetry, or a collection of stories out of One Thousand and One Nights) than his American counterparts European authors do this kind of thing so much better.VERSE:Heaven and Hell[In the Words of Milorad Pavic]The taller we growToward the sky,Through the Wind and rainToward God,The deeper We must sinkOur roots Through the mud andSubterranean watersToward hell.SOUNDTRACK:Chaka Khan Going Up Yonder (Live at Aretha Franklin's funeral) Recommended to me after I'd talked up Mark Z Danielewski's House of Leaves, this book could be, and often has been, cited as one of Danielewski's predecessors It's one of those books you could spend a whole year with, unpacking it, taking notes, analyzing and crossreferencing, or you could just read and enjoy.The book is divided into three dictionaries focused around exploring The Khazar Polemic, a fictionalized account of the mass conversion of the Khazar people in which the representatives of the three Abrahamic faiths, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, were called to come before the Khazar king and present a case for their individual faiths Each dictionary has an entry for certain terms/people, such a Khazars, Princess Ateh and the Khazar Polemic, as well as a host of entries solely their own Certain characters, situations, images, events and phrases pop up throughout all three dictionaries as well Dates are confused, actions are distorted and characters change, making the book feel like an actual, authentic and messy engagement into history long passed and personal motivations running up against historical moments/movements They are like the impurities added to electronic music to make it soundlike the actual instruments they are mimicking The book can be read however one wishes, front to back, bouncing through various allusions to other entries, all the similar entries together, however you wish However, there is a certain poetry to the book's ending if read straight through from Dr Dorothea Schultz's entry to Appendix II after having the whole book behind you The entire book is fascinating and engaging, but I believe there is a reason no entry references the second appendix It should be saved for last, the simple, exquisite dessert that casts the entire meal into glorious relief As enjoyable as it is, this is not a book to be read lightly As it states in the brilliantly done introduction to the book, one gets out of the truth, or this book, what one puts into it If you come in ready not simply to read, but to work, you have quite an experience ahead of you I hope you enjoy it a tenth as much as I did.