- Paperback: 354 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage international ed., Female ed edition (October 28, 1989)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 067972754X
- ISBN-13: 978-0679727545
- Product Dimensions: 4.9 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 53 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #308,469 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Dictionary of the Khazars: A Lexicon Novel in 100,000 Words Paperback – October 28, 1989
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"All its delights...the structural novelty and the comic inventiveness of the imagery...[are] an ebullient and generous celebration of the reading experience."
-- The New York Times Book Review
"As with Borges or Garcia Marquez...[Pavic] knows how to support his textual legerdemain with superb portrait miniatures and entrancing anecdotes." -- Washington Post Book World
Translated from the Serbo-Croatian
by Christina Pribicevic-Zoric
Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Serbo-Croation
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Some background: There used to be a people on the edge of the Caucasuscalled the Khazars. They lived on the border with the Byzantine Empire, which considered them an ally serving the function of a buffer state with Persia and the states to the east. At some point, they disappeared along with their records, language, cities and almost everything having to do with them but a few cemeteries. Legend has it that the Jews of Eastern Europe (the Ashkenazi) are their descendants. (Arthur Koestler has written a book on the subject.)
Before they vanished, their king decided that he needed a new religion and summoned representatives of Christianity, Islam and Judaism to his court.
When I first encountered the Dictionary of the Khazars in the late 1980s, I decided that it was the strangest book I'd ever read. That opinion hasn't changed.
The book's conceit is that it is a facsimile of a "Dictionary of the Khazars" compiled in Poland during the 1600s, but banned by the Inquisition and destroyed the year after it was printed. All except for one copy, which was printed in poisoned ink. The story dribbles out through the three sets of alphabetical listings (from the Jew, the Muslim and the Christian who appeared at the court), with the relationships among the characters rather than the plot moving the story along. An appendix brings the story to its climax in 1982 in Istanbul.
There is in fact not plot in the sense of an ordered, coherent narrative. The story flits in and out of dreams, legends, magical realism, references to the history of Anatolia and the Balkans, all in the form of terse dictionary entries which come from three sources and frequently contradict each other. If you like Jorge Luis Borges and Garbriel Garcia Marquez, this is worth a look.
Oh, and don't worry about which edition to get. There is one paragraph toward the end that, as the author says, "changes everything", but you can figure out the other ending without any trouble.
It is quite original in its idea to tell a story of a mysterious tribe of the Khazars which lived in Europe between seventh and ninth century. As it is a dictionary, numerous characters can be found within their own sections, in alphabetical order, and distributed along three different books. So, you can skip from one book to the other, following stories about your favourite character, or just read it in a "conventional" way.
Pavic writes in a beautiful and rich style which is excellently translated to English. If you like fantasy novels, with a true ring to them, this would be a great novel for you.