Dictionary of the Khazars

by Milorad Pavić (tr. Christina Pribićević-Zorić)

Rating: ★★★

As a printed item, quite beautiful, with a great font and delicate use of colour and annotations. The three books have their own little distinctive features, but merge together well as one volume. However, as a book to be read it is too explicitly experimental to be entertaining.

The reading experience is I think intended to be something between the patching-together of the truth from historical accounts (we are given three different sources about some of the same events) and a somewhat extended dream sequence that plays with the form as well as the subject matter in long, rambling asides that nest stories inside stories within dictionary entries. Events introduced in one entry are mentioned again in another, the aim being that new light is shed on previously incomprehensible stories. The patchwork is self-referential, with much space given within fragments to the assemblage of both the dictionary and the story from those fragments.

In some ways a success at creating this woven thread narrative, the book just isn't that much fun to read. Odd stories about the Khazars and their world fail to land because there is no real sense that the author is trying to create a real, believable story about them, and would be happy to leave the book located somewhere in postmodern myth, with dreams the primary mechanism for progress. At times I found myself reviewing a passage I had just read and concluding that its only purpose was as somewhat twee filler between the hook and the revelation dangling later in the same entry, and most of the details mentioned didn't matter at all. I think I am meant to enjoy sifting this, I can see how someone might, but it didn't really work for me.