Aristotle, the world’s first literary critic, observed in his POETICS that successful dramatic situations should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Most novelists accept this dictum unquestioningly, and strive to create logical, “airtight” plots. In recent years, however, certain writers have experimented with more open-ended forms, looking for ways to engage the reader in structural decision-making. The textbook example of this participatory mode is Julio Cortazar’s novel HOPSCOTCH, the chapters of which can be read in several equally valid sequences. Yugoslavian poet Milorad Pavic’s first novel, DICTIONARY OF THE KHAZARS, pays homage to Cortazar by inviting the reader to skip from chapter to chapter in whatever order he pleases.
Pavic’s structural conceit is to present his novel in the form of a dictionary, filled with short topical entries on a long-forgotten people known as the Khazars, who settled between the Black and Caspian seas around the seventh century A.D. Students of contemporary literature will recognize the influence of another modern master--Jorge Luis Borges--in Pavic’s highly detailed bibliographic fantasy. The dictionary is purportedly a translation of the only surviving copy of a book written in the seventeenth century, when Khazar scholarship was in vogue. The compiler of the dictionary (who learned the lost language of the Khazars from parrots) divided his work into three separate sections, consisting of Jewish, Christian,...
(The entire section is 444 words.)