Guest Blog: Milorad Pavić, Dictionary of the Khazards – Keeping a Remembrance Alive

By Luna Gradinšćak

Milorad Pavić (1929-2009) once said that in his life he experienced something which most famous writers get only after death. Certainly, he thought of glory and fame, which he lived to achieve. And it is true: his Dictionary of the Khazards (1984; English translation 1988) at the very beginning sold in enormous quantities. Nowdays he is one of the most translated Serbian writers and his books are sold in all parts of the world. In Poland, a drama by Pavel Pasini based on Pavić’s novel, named Dictionary of the Khazards: Children of Dreams[1] was staged last year; it won an award on the occasion of the International Day of Theatre. Therefore, this writer, according to prominent researchers in Serbian literature, is one of the followers and venerators of Miloš Crnjanski (about whom I wrote last time) who made a poetic revolution. Pavić, who was also a professor at the Univerity of Novi Sad (Serbia) and candidate for the Nobel Prize, decided to change our perception of reading. He believed that a man who doesn’t read is a dead man, and tried to change the reader’s position – the reader is not only a consumer of a book but a part of its creation.

PavicDictionary of the Khazards is a novel-lexicon about a vanishing people, the Khazards, and because of the book’s arrangement via the alphabet, the book ends differently depending on how you read it. Nonlinear prose in the book contains miscellaneous references to the writer’s fictional story of the Khazards and the reasons for their vanishing. Also, this type of prose provides the opportunity for every reader to use his imagination – and he will, in his own way, on the occasion of reading. The way of reading the book can be an adventure that starts from any book’s entry. Pavić said: ’The linearity of the written word is different even from human speech. Literary language compresses our thoughts and dreams, feelings and memories in a uniform system now too slow for the time in which we live. Hence arise efforts to achieve non-linear storytelling, something like saving the literary work from the linearity of language. Therefore, a computer, or if you prefer, electronic writers, create interactive novels where the language is shifted from its linearity, and the reader creates its own map of reading.’

So, when we talk about this book, we also talk about interactive prose. Dictionary of the Khazards contains what the author was interested in – dreams and thoughts, a great part of our lives, which are also not linear in our everyday world. He mentions that modern technology, such as that used by ’digital writers’ or ones who in their work include references to the digital world, also thought about changing the linear phenomenon. So, he accepted the changes that appear in the world and put them in books. The motto of this book could be: the more you read, the more you get. The story puts the pieces[2] together by itself, as the reader moves from one entry to another. His unique and unfathomable writing style gives us a chance to wander into a new world ruled by other measures and laws that we might have known once upon a time: ’It is not I who mix the colors but your own vision,’ he answered. ‘I only place them next to one another on the wall in their natural state; it is the observer who mixes the colors in his own eye, like porridge. Therein lies the secret. The better the porridge, the better the painting, but you cannot make good porridge from bad buckwheat. Therefore, faith in seeing, listening, and reading is more important than faith in painting, singing, or writing.’

That is what makes him always topical and part of the present. And that is how he keeps valuable but vanishing things always alive.

Luna Gradinšćak is a Master’s student of Serbian Literature & Language and South Slavic Literatures in the Faculty of Philosophy in Novi Sad, Serbia and has published numerous articles in scholarly periodicals. She can be followed on Twitter here: @baobaobab

Image: Statue of Milorad Pavić (By Goldfinger at sr.wikipedia), Wikimedia Commons.


[1] A picture of the performance may be seen here and here and here is the website.

[2] All these pieces reveal many great literary issues and also life questions, such as the relation between reality and dreams, the truth or falsity of the document and historical facts, the notion of the encyclopedia, the position of the reader, myth and many others which can be a motivation for new essays.


  1. Thank you for your time and pingback. :)

  2. Pingback: An Alternate Take on Dictionary of the Khazars | thewomenofletters