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by Bamber Gascoigne

Milorad Pavić (1929-2009)


Serbian novelist, short story writer, poet, translator, and literary historian. Milorad Pavić expanded with a fresh and innovative approach the limits of narrative structure. His multi-layered Dictionary of the Khazars (1984) is considered one of the most intriguing works in postmodernist fiction. It was published in separate "male" and "female" versions. In Paris Match Philippe Tretiak called the work "the first novel of the twenty-first century."

"Suffice it to say that his dreams are faster than those of other people, that he dreams more swiftly than a horse, and that his telephones neigh like a stable full of stallions, reporting on these dreams." (in Landscape Painted with Tea, translated by Christina Pribićević-Zoric, 1990; originally published 1988)

Milorad Pavić was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia), into a distinguished family of writers. He graduated from the University of Belgrade and received his Ph.D. in literary history at the University of Zagreb. Pavić began his academic career at the Sorbonne and continued in Vienna. After teaching literature at the universities of Novi Sad, Freiburg, Regensburg, Belgrade, Pavić devoted himself entirely to writing. His first collection of poetry appeared in 1967. With his wife, the writer and literary critic Jasmina Mihajlović, he settled in Belgrade.

When Slobodan Milošević rose into power with his nationalist agenda, Pavić expressed his support for the governments's goals, but he never joined Milošević's party, and later avoided discussing controversial issues. Pavić was elected in 1991 a member of the Serbian Academy of Science and Arts.  After the Kosovo War, in writing of his own life, Pavić said: "I have not killed anyone. But they have killed me. Long before my death. It would have been better for my books had their author been a Turk or a German. I was the best known writer of the most hated nation in the world – the Serbian nation." ('The Poisoned Book,' in What Is World Literature? by David Damrosch, 2003) Pavić died of complications of a heart attack on November 30, 2009, in Belgrade.

Palimpseti (1967), with which Pavić made his debut as a poet, was followed by Mesecev kamen (1971) and several books of short stories, including Gvozdena zavesa (1973), Konji svetoga Marka (1976). Lyrics such as 'Rejoice Eleventh Finger Reckoner of Stars' and 'But I'm the One From Whom They Stole a Button From His Trouser Leg' reveal Pavić's fascination with paradoxical and unconventional images. He has also published monographs of literary history from Serbian Baroque and Symbolist poetry, reviving and re-evaluating some older Serbian writers and editing their neglected works. Among Pavić's studies are Istorija srpske književnosti baroknog doba (XVII i XVIII vek) (1970), Vojislav Ilić, njegovo vreme i del (1972), and Radjanje nove srpske knjizevnosti (1983).

Hazarski rečnik: roman leksikon u 100.000 reči (1984, Dictionary of the Khazars), Pavić's first novel, is a playful mock-history of the Khazars, located somewhere among Turkey, Russia and the Slavic countries to the west. In the late 9th century A.D., the great Khan, ruler of the obscure Caucasian people, summons the three leading scholars to determine which religion his people will adopt.

The story is told in three versions according to the "sources" – the Christian in the Red book, the Islamic in the Green, and the Hebrew in the Yellow, referring to the fact that there is no single correct point of view to any fundamental question. The Jewish section is the longest. "And so, when I began to read the proffered pages, I at one moment lost the train of thought in the text and drowned it in my own feelings. In these seconds of absence and self-oblivion, centuries passed with every read but uncomprehended and unabsorbed line, and when, after a few moments, I came to and re-established contact with the text, I knew that the reader who returns from the open seas of his feelings is no longer the same reader who embarked on that sea only a short while ago." (in Dictionary of the Khazars, female version)  Pavić did not separate reality from fantasy, the past from the future. Dictionary of the Khazars offered an alternative to traditional ways of reading.  "Everybody can discover and read in my books many things," Pavić said in an interview. "The reader has nearly the same rights as the author." ('You Can Read It Across or Down' by Jonathan Baumbach, The New York Times, December 16, 1990)  The book within a book itself comes in two editions, a "male" and a "female" version, which differ by one paragraph.

Pavić's lexicon novel continued the long tradition of histories of imaginary lands, starting from Jonathan Swift's islands for his Lilliputs, Brobdingnags, and continuing in Lewis Carrol's Wonderland, L. Frank Baum's Oz, etc. Moreover, in the background there was also Jorge Luis Borges' story 'Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius' (1940), which feature an encyclopaedia from another reality. Behind a net of legends, facts, metaphysical philosophizing, and quasi-historical stories, the reader can decipher a plot, in which the Khazar dream-hunters try to attach themselves to the body of the angel ancestor of mankind. They "plunge into other people's dreams and sleep and from them extract little pieces of Adam-the-precursor's being, composing them into a whole, into so-called Khazar dictionaries . . ." The Khazars are said to be a mythical tribe, who flourished somewhere in the Balkans between the seventh and ninth centuries. Readers are informed that the novel is an attempt to reconstruct a destroyed dictionary, Daubmannus's 1691 Lexicon Cosri. (There is no such dictionary.) Pavić calls his novel "an open book" in his introductoy remarks to the first edition. "Each reader will put the book together for himself . . . and, as with a mirror, he will get out of this dictionary as much as he puts into it." ('Pavić, Milorad,' in World Authors 1985-1990, edited by Vineta Colby, 1995) A surprise bestseller, by the late 1990s Dictionary of the Khazars had been translated into twenty-six languages. 

Pavić's second novel, Predeo slikan čajem (1988, Landscape with Tea), is a playful combination of a crossword puzzle and modern Odyssey. Atanas Svilar (alias Razin) is a failed architect, who tries to find an answer to his question "why had his life been barren and futile, despite the enormous effort invested?" He joins a monastery on Greece's Mount Athos, where his disappeared father, a Russian mathematician named Fyodor Alekseyevich Razin, had been during World War II. Svilar's search for his roots and for the meaning of life becomes entwined with the history and secrets of the most ancient of all monasteries. In Book Two Svilar changes his name to Atanas Fyodorovich Razin, leaves his family, and moves with the beautiful Vitacha Milut to the United States. The plot is constructed like a cryptic crossword, with chapters which can be read "down" or "across." The solution of the puzzle is supposed to lead to the solution of life.

Poslednja ljubav u Carigradu: priručnik za gatanje (1994, Last Love in Constantinople) has an innovative game-oriented twist as Landscape Painted with Tea: Subtitled "A Tarot Novel of Divination,'' the book is accompanied by a pack of Tarot cards, which the reader may use to read in a new way the books 21 chapters. This postmodernist experimentation has much in common with Julio Cortázar's novel Hopscotch (1963). Last Love in Constantinople is a colorful romance set in Eastern Europe during the Napoleonic Wars. The protagonist is Sofronije Opujic, a young cavalryman, whose service in Napoleon's army is complicated by a mysterious prophecy and love for the daughter of his father's enemy.

Characteristic of Pavić's novels is mastery of form and language, brilliant metaphors, playfulness, and his interest in such basic philosophical questions as what is the truth, and how can it be obtained? "There are no strict divisions between Pavić's representations of reality," David A. Norris wrote in Contemporary World Writers (edited by Tracy Chevalier, 1993). "His works demand, like all literature, that readers suspend belief and surrender themselves to the text. Paradoxically, Pavić's resistance to traditional generic classification is a recognition of their power." The magic of the narrative is taken to its ultimate conclusion in The Tale That Killed Emily Knorr (2005), in which Pavic imagines a tale that can kill and be killed. The play Forever And A Day (1993) had a menu-like structure, three interchangeable "starters," one "main course" and three interchangeable "desserts." According to Pavic's instructions, the director should never take more than one "starter" or more than one "dessert" with the same dinner." Imagine the menu as a tragedy, or the tragedy as a menu! With the menu's  magic formula of 3+1+3! You couldn't give it a better cap or prettier dress!" (in Forever And A Day)

Together with such writers as Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, Italo Calvino, and Umberto Eco, Pavić charted new territories in modern fiction. The writer and literary critic Jasmina Mihajlovic has noted, that Dictionary of the Khazars, Landscape Painted with Tea, Inner Side of the Wind, and Last Love in Constantinople have characteristics of the hypertext, and they could be read most effectively if they were transferred into a hypertext format. Her view was shared by Robert Coover in his review of Dictionary of the Khazars. "Since the computer radical and prophet Ted Nelson first invented the word ''hypertext'' to describe such computer-driven nonsequential writing nearly a quarter of a century ago, there has been a steady, now rapid, growth of disciples to this newest sect of dream hunters. A new kind of coverless, interactive, expandable ''book'' is now being written; there are no doubt several out there in hyperspace right now; and ''Dictionary of the Khazars'' could easily take its place among them as inspired hackers, imitating Mr. Pavić's Father Theoctist Nikolsky, gleeful inventor of saints' lives, add their own entries, helping to fashion Adam Cadmon's body." (Robert Coover in The New York Times, November 20, 1988)

For further reading: 'He Thinks the Way We Dream' by Robert Coover, The New York Times Book Review (20 Nov. 1988); Razgovori sa Pavićem by Miloš Jevtić (1990); Hazari, ili, Obnova vizantijskog romana: razgovori sa Miloradom Pavićem by Ana Šomlo (1990); Hazarska prizma: tumačenje proze Milorada Pavić by Jovan Delić (1991); Prilog za bibliografiju Milorada Pavića by Jasmina Mihajlović (1991, pp. 231-305. Separately and as part of the book "An Anchoret in New York" in Collected Works, 1990); Priča o duši i telu: Slojevi i značenja u prozi Milorada Pavića by Jasmina Mihajlović (1992); Das historische und das fiktive im "Chasarischen Wörterbuch" von Milorad Pavic by Edeltraude Ehrlich (1994); 'Pavić, Milorad,' in World Authors 1985-1990, edited by Vineta Colby (1995); 'Pavić, Milorad' by JC [John Clute], in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, ed. by John Clute and John Grant (1997); 'Milorad Pavić,' in Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers, edited by David Pringle (1998); Prvi pisac trećeg milenija: životopis Milorada Pavića by Radovan Popović (2002); 'The Poisoned Book,' in What Is World Literature? by David Damrosch (2003); Milorad Pavić mora pričati priče by Sava babić (2010); The Search for the Mythical State  of Innocence:The Mythopoetic Dimension in the Novel Dictionary of the Khazars by Milorad Pavic by Ivan Cvetanovi (2006); Milorad Pavić: stanovnik svetske književnost, priredio Ivan Negrišorac (2018); Milorad Pavić, priredila Jelena Marićević (2019)

Selected works:

  • Vojislav Ilić i evropsko pesništvo: doktorska disertacija, 1960
  • Sabrana dela / Vojislav Ilić, 1961 (2 vols.; priredio, komentare i predgovor napisao Milorad Pavic)
  • Vojislav Ilic, njegovo vreme i delo, 1962
  • Vojislav Ilić, 1962
  • Evgenije Onjegin: roman u stihovima / A. S. Puškin, 1964 (prepevao Milorad Pavić)
  • Memoari XVIII i XIX veka / Vojislav Ilić, 1964 (predgovor, izbor i redakcija Milorad Pavić)
  • Od baroka do klasicizma, 1966 (priredio [i] predgovor [napisao] Milorad Pavić)
  • Crni bivo u srcu; legende, besede, pesme, 1966 (Izbor, predgovor i red. Milorad Pavić)
  • Vojislav Ilić, 1966 (Izbor, redkaciju izvršio i predgovor napisao Milorad Pavić)
  • Palimpsesti. Pesme, 1967
  • Pesme / Ilić, Vojislav, 1968 (edited by Milorad Pavić)
  • Dela / Karadžić, Vuk Stefanović, 1969 (priredio Milorad Pavić) 
  • Istorija srpske književnosti baroknog doba (XVII i XVIII vek), 1970
  • Mesečev kamen. Pesme, 1971
  • Vojislav Ilić i evropsko pesništvo, 1971
  • Vojislav Ilić, njegovo vreme i delo, 1972
  • Gavril Stefanovic Venclovic, 1972
  • Gvozdena zavesa, 1973
  • Jezičko pamćenje i pesnički oblik, 1976
  • Konji svetoga Marka, 1976
  • Istorija srpske književnosti klasicizma i predromantizma: klasicizam, 1979
  • Ruski hrt / Borzoi, 1979
  • Nove beogradske priče, 1981
  • Crvena kraljica, 1981 (TV drama), written by Milorad Pavić, dir. by Miroslav Medjimorec, starring Irfan Mensur, Svetlana Bojkovic, Milan Mihailovic
  • Duše se kupaju poslednji put, 1982
  • Radjanje nove srpske knjizevnosti, 1983
  • Hazarski rečnik: roman leksikon u 100.000 reči, 1984 - Dictionary of the Khazars: a Lexicon Novel in 100,000 Words (female ed.; translated from the Serbo-Croatian by Christina Pribićević-Zorić, 1988); Dictionary of the Khazars: a Lexicon Novel in 100,000 Words (male ed.; translated from the Serbo-Croatian by Christina Pribićević-Zorić) - Kasaarisanakirja: sadantuhannen sanan sanakirjaromaani: miesten painos (suomentanut Tuula Jaale-Mišic, 1990); Kasaarisanakirja: sadantuhannen sanan sanakirjaromaani: naisten painos (suomentanut Tuula Jaale-Mišic, 1990)
  • Istorija, stalež i stil: jezičko pamćenje i pesnički oblik II, 1985
  • Izabrana dela, 1985
  • Ruski hrt i nove priče, 1986
  • Predeo slikan čajem: roman za ljubitelje ukrštenih reči, 1988 - Landscape Painted with Tea: A Novel for Lovers of Crossword Puzzles (translated from the Serbo-Croatian by Christina Pribićević-Zorić, 1990)
  • Izvrnuta rukavica, 1989
  • Sabrana dela Milorada Pavića, 1990 (urednici Vuk Krnjević, Milosav Mirković)
  • Anahoret u Njujorku: pesme, 1990
  • Kratka istorija Beograda, 1990 - A Short History of Belgrade (prevod na engleski Kristina Pribićević-Zoric, 2001́)
  • Unutrašnja strana vetra, ili, Roman o Heri i Leandru, 1991 - The Inner Side of the Wind; or, The Novel of Hero and Leander (transl. by Christina Pribichevih-Zoric)
  • Istorija srpske knjizevnosti, 1991
  • Pozorisni jelovnik za uvek i dan vise, 1993 - Theatre Menu Forever and a Day (translated by Christina Pribicevic-Zoric)
  • Sve pavićeve priče i jedna drama, 1993
  • screenplay (with Dragan Marinkovic): Vizantijsko plavo / Byzantine blue, 1993 - film dir. by Dragan Marinkovic, starring Katarina Zutic, Lazar Ristovski, Srdan Todorovic, Uliks Fehmiu, Dimitrije Vojinov
  • Poslednja ljubav u Carigradu: priručnik za gatanje, 1994 - Last Love in Constantinople. Tarot-Novel for Divination (translated from the Serbian by Christina Pribichevich-Zorić)'
  • Leteći hram: poezija, 1995 (izbor i pogovor Draško Ređep)
  • Za uvek i dan više: pozorišni jelovnik, 1996
  • Unutrašnja strana vetra, 1996
  • Konji svetoga Marka, 1996
  • Srpske priče, 1996
  • Gvozdena zavesa: pricě, 1996
  • Šešir od riblje kože: ljubavna priča, 1996
  • Izvrnuta rukavica: priče, 1996
  • Predeo slikan čajem: roman za ljubitelje ukrštenih reči, 1996
  • Hazarski rečnik: roman leksikon u 100.000 reči, 1996
  • Stakleni puž: priče sa Interneta, 1998
  • Milorad Pavic, Jasmina Mihajlovic. Dve kotorske price, 1998
  • Zapis na konjskom ćebetu: nove beogradske priče, 1999 (2. izd.  )
  • Glinena armija, 1999
  • Kutija za pisanje, 1999 - The Writing Box (translated from Serbian by Dragan Purešić, 2014)
  • Zvezdani plašt: astrološki vodič za neupućene, 2000
  • Anđeo s naočarima, 2000
  • Kratka istorija Beograda = A Short History of Belgrade, 2001 (prevod na engleski Kristina Pribićević-Zorić)
  • Strašne ljubavne priče: izabrane i nove, 2001
  • Vrata sna i druge priče, 2002
  • Priča o travi i druge priče, 2002
  • Devet kiša i druge priče, 2002
  • Carski rez i druge priče, 2002
  • Sedam smrtnih grehova, 2002
  • Dve interaktivne drame: Krevet za troje & Stakleni puž, 2002
  • Dve lepeze iz Galate; Stakleni puž: i druge priče, 2003
  • Šareni hleb: priča za dečake; Nevidljivo ogledalo: priča za devojčice, 2003
  • Plava sveska: katalog svih sto završetaka romana-delte Unikat, 2004
  • Interaktivne drame, 2004
  • Jasmina Mihajlovic, Milorad Pavic: Ljubavni roman u dve price, 2004
  • Unikat, 2004
  • Roman kao država i drugi ogledi, 2005
  • Dve kotorske priče, 2005
  • Priča koja je ubila Emiliju Knor, 2005 - The Tale That Killed Emily Knorr (translated by Dragana Rajkov, Milorad Pavic)
  • Roman kao država i drugi ogledi, 2005
  • Svadba u kupatilu: Vesela igra u sedam slika, 2005
  • Drugo telo, 2006 - Second Body: Pious Novel (new, expanded edition; translated by Dragana Rajkov-Šimic, 2011́)
  • Pozorište od hartije: roman antologija ili savremena svetska priča, 2007
  • Unutrašnja strana vetra, ili, Roman o Heri i Leandru, 2008
  • Sve priče, 2008 (pogovor napisao Petar Pijanović)
  • Second Body: Pious Novel, 2011 (new, expanded edition; translated by Dragana Rajkov-Šimić)
  • Mali noćni roman, 2012
  • Mali je svet, 2014 (priredio Aleksandar Jerkov)
  • Poslednja priča, 2014 (priredio Aleksandar Jerkov)
  • Hazarski rečnik: roman leksikon u 100.000 reči: androgino izdanje = Lexicon Cosri: (rečnik rečnika o hazarskom pitanju), 2014
  • Jugoistočna Europa pod osmanskom vlašću: od pada Carigrada do Svištovskog mira, 2014
  • Unique Item: Delta Novel with a Hundred Endings, 2015 (second edition; translated by Dragana Rajkov)
  • Priča koja je ubila Emiliju Knor = The Tale That Killed Emily Knorr, 2015  (in Serbian and English bound together and inverted; translated by Dragana Rajkov)

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