The Dictionary of the Khazars: A Postmodern Exploration of Religion and Identity


"The Dictionary of the Khazars" is a postmodern novel written by Serbian author Milorad Pavić. First published in 1984, it is a unique and complex work that defies traditional narrative structures. The book explores the history, culture, and mythology of the Khazars, a semi-nomadic Turkic people who once lived in the region between the Black and Caspian Seas.

The novel takes the form of a fictional lexicon or dictionary, divided into three sections: the Red Book, the Green Book, and the Yellow Book. Each section offers a different perspective on the Khazar civilization and their encounter with three different religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The narrative is presented in the form of entries, cross-references, footnotes, and citations, creating a fragmented and non-linear reading experience.

The Red Book serves as the main narrative, presenting the history and mythology of the Khazars. It begins with the ruler of the Khazar Empire, King Bulan, who faces a dilemma of choosing between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to unify his people. The book delves into the religious debates and philosophical discussions among the Khazar scholars, each advocating for their respective faiths. This section also introduces various characters, including the Khazar prince, a female scientist, and a magician.

The Green Book provides a Christian perspective on the Khazars and their conversion to Christianity. It explores the life of a Russian princess who marries a Khazar prince and the subsequent cultural clashes between the two civilizations. This section delves into the history of the Byzantine Empire, the rise of Christianity, and the conflicts between Eastern and Western Christianity.

The Yellow Book offers an Islamic viewpoint, focusing on the story of a Muslim diplomat sent to the Khazar court to negotiate the conversion of the Khazars to Islam. It delves into the cultural exchange between the Khazars and the Arab world, including the influence of Islamic mysticism and Sufism. This section also introduces the character of the Arabian princess, who plays a significant role in bridging the gap between the Khazar and Islamic cultures.

Throughout the novel, Pavić weaves together multiple narratives, blurring the lines between fact and fiction, history and myth. The reader is encouraged to navigate through the dictionary entries in a nonlinear fashion, following cross-references and discovering connections between different stories and characters. Pavić employs various literary devices, such as magical realism, metafiction, and intertextuality, to create a rich and layered narrative.

"The Dictionary of the Khazars" is a challenging and thought-provoking novel that explores themes of religion, identity, and the fluidity of history. It invites readers to engage actively with the text, piecing together the fragmented narratives to construct their own understanding of the Khazar civilization. Pavić's innovative storytelling and intricate structure make this book a fascinating and intellectually stimulating read.


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