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Dictionary of the Khazars: A Lexicon Novel…

Dictionary of the Khazars: A Lexicon Novel in 100,000 Words {Male Edition} (1984)

by Milorad Pavić

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Dictionary of the Khazars (Male)

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7621012,170 (3.88)10



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In the 8th century, the Khan of the Khazars had a dream and invited a Muslim, a Christian, and a Jewish scholar to interpret it and debate each other, promising that he and his people would convert to the religion of the scholar who gave the best performance. This novel takes the form of three dictionaries, one for each of the three religions, which give accounts of the Khazars, the disputation, the scholars, and people involved with the first, 17th century, edition of the dictionaries.

The first time I read this, I quite enjoyed it as a puzzle looking at the way individuals and events were seen through different lenses and echoed down the years, but this time I just found it tiresome. I don't know whether it's just that I'm getting older or the internet is decreasing my attention span or because the book doesn't have the same impact without the accompanying hype. ( )
  Robertgreaves | Sep 19, 2017 |
Country: Serbia

I bought this in 1989 and have dipped into it now and then, but decided that now was the time to read it through. Dictionary of the Khazars is a novel in encyclopedic form. It is post-diluvean, fragmented, and, though internally logical, follows dream-logic. Meanings are obscure and malleable, yet characters proceed with certainty, even when the reader knows that the characters' certain interpretations are contradicted elsewhere and at other times. It embodies the problem of attempting to reconstruct a first source, and the sorrow that follows on realizing that whatever the Ur-source was, it cannot be regained and must remain essentially unknowable. At this level, it is a novel about psychology, about desire, which, as Lacan reminds us, is that which cannot be fulfilled. Instead, meaning is accretionary and imperfect. The building of Babel cannot be undone; destroying the Tower yields a destroyed tower, not the state before the tower existed. In important ways, reality is neither observable nor accessible. This dictionary, a compilation of fragments and glosses of three earlier sections, as well as other made and lost parts, is itself fragmentary and unknowable.

Dictionary of the Khazars reads like much mystical writing of the middle ages: Self-referential, illogical, certain of its assumptions. In reading, one understands Pavić's observation, "Knowledge is a perishable commodity; it can turn sour in a second. Like the future" (p. 243). If you like postmodern writing about writing, you'll like this very much. If you don't, this is not a good place to start. Read with Robert Irwin's The Arabian Nightmare to lose yourself in uncomfortable dreams, and with Wilson's The Chronoliths for strange dislocations of time and causality.
( )
  OshoOsho | Mar 30, 2013 |
I honestly couldn't finish this one. I am incredibly intrigued by its format, though. Some day I will give it another try. ( )
  cherish | May 13, 2010 |
An interestingly done intellectual game, but mostly not even as emotionally engaging as Borges. Wonderful as a rarity, wouldn't want a steady diet of. I probably missed a lot. ( )
  krisiti | Jul 1, 2009 |
A riddling book, which I finished with the sense that things were eventually knitting together and might even converge on some semblance of a solution, if I examined both 'male' and 'female' versions, and undertook careful cross-referencing between the partial and sometimes contradictory Christian, Islamic and Hebrew dictionary sections. It's arguably to the book's discredit that I have not felt inclined to do so; it's arguably to its redemptive credit that I nevertheless found it an intriguing read.

This 'dictionary' is more a set of alphabetically ordered vignettes, each of which can be enjoyed firstly in itself, and secondly in the mutual mirroring between it and the others. Sometimes the effect is confusing, occasionally it can feel repetitive, and some details may just seem peculiar; but what's always evident is that the author has ideas, and whereas normally it's critical assassination to observe that plot elements in a work don't hang smoothly together, in the confused pseudohistorical accounts of the Khazar Polemic we have a kind of justification even for that. Perhaps this symposium of unreliable narrators is in its own way a more really historical fiction than most attempts at a 'realistic' historical novel.
  VanishedOne | Feb 15, 2009 |
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» Add other authors (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Milorad Pavićprimary authorall editionscalculated
Dokter, ReinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gerritse, MarjanDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jansen, ChristelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mühlbauer, RitaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Petkov, GordanaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The author assures the reader that he will not have to die if he reads this book, as did the user of the 1691 edition, when The Khazar Dictionary still had its first scribe.
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Disambiguation notice
The Dictionary of the Khazars was published simultaneously in "male" and "female" versions. There is a slight, but critical, difference between the texts; please distinguish between them. This LT Work is the Male Edition. Thank you.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679724613, Paperback)

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 more.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:35 -0400)

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