Sunday, December 20, 2009

Milorad Pavić 1929-2009

It goes to show just how out of it that I have been with work and other seasonal madness (including two feet of snow in Washington D.C.) that I somehow missed the death of one of Serbia's most innovative and provocative writers: Milorad Pavić.

Pavić's greatest work was Dictionary of the Khazars -- a novel written in the form of dictionary entries that purported to retell a mythical Khazar polemic in which Christian, Jewish and Muslim divines debated before the Emperor of the Khazars, who would then decide to which religion he and his people would convert.

The book is clearly an allegory about the divided religion and culture of Yugoslavia, but its playfulness and panache make it a terrific reading experience even if you know little or nothing about Yugoslavia. In particular, Pavić's pastiches of the writings of various medieval and Renaissance holy books is devilishly delightful.

Pavić's other works took equally novel forms: crossword puzzles, tarot cards. Much of his work has been translated into English. He's definitely worth exploring if you are a fan of fictive innovation.

I had the privilege of meeting Pavić on two occasions, when he cheerily signed books for my friends and seemed absolutely delighted to hear that he had a substantial readership in English.

Read the excellent obituary in today's New York Times here.

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