Dictionary of the Khazars


Author: Milorad Pavić
Title: Dictionary of the Khazars
Publish Date: 1984
Genre: Fiction
Page Length: 355 pages


Milorad Pavić’s Dictionary of the Khazars, first published in 1984, holds a distinct place within the realm of literature. Blending history, mythology, and fiction, the novel presents itself as a lexicon, a compilation of entries that interweave to build a captivating tapestry. Divided into three sections or chapters, each representing different perspectives, the book explores the rise and fall of the Khazar empire, their encounters with religious ideologies, and the mystery surrounding their eventual disappearance.

Chapter 1, titled “The Red Book,” encompasses the story from a Christian perspective. Within these pages, readers are introduced to a religious scholar known as the White Jew, who curated an encyclopedia about the Khazars. He delves into the mysterious history of the Khazar nation and, in particular, their ruler, the Khagan. The chapter reveals the Khazars’ pivotal decision to embrace one of the three major religions: Islam, Christianity, or Judaism. Their choice, explored through various sub-entries, fuels debates about spirituality and the nature of God.

Chapter 2, known as “The Green Book,” shifts to an Islamic perspective. Here, a female searcher explores the historical events that led the Khazars to convert to Islam. Along this journey, the reader encounters pivotal characters such as Buluqia, the Khazar prince, and Ishtail, the Islamic missionary. This section offers differing viewpoints on conversion and serves as a reflection on the broader interactions between Christianity and Islam during the Middle Ages.

Chapter 3, “The Yellow Book,” presents a Jewish perspective, mirroring the structure of the previous chapters but delving into the realm of Judaism. It unfurls the story of Rabbi Judah Halevi, who is summoned by the Khagan to debate on theological matters. Through a series of autobiographical entries, readers explore the challenges faced by Jews and their place within a multicultural society. This section delves into themes such as identity, exile, and the burdens imposed by religious heritage.

Throughout the Dictionary of the Khazars, Pavić imbues his work with mythical tales, dream sequences, and metaphorical elements. Characters are often portrayed as symbolic figures, representing larger concepts or communities rather than individual personas. While the novel is primarily concerned with the Khazars and their religious preoccupations, it also raises philosophical queries about spirituality, cultural exchange, and the nature of history itself.

By adopting an academic tone, Pavić invites readers to actively engage with the text, resembling a linguistic puzzle that leads to an expansive understanding of the Khazar civilization and its role in broader historical narratives. The significance of the Dictionary of the Khazars resides not just in its powerful narrative, but in its ability to prompt contemplation on the complexities of religious identity amidst a diverse and fragmented world.