Milorad Pavic



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Milorad Pavic (Serbia, 1929)

"Predeo Slikan Cajem/ A Landscape Painted in Tea" (1985) contains more of Pavic's magic writing but the postmodernist trick (most of the book is to be read according to crosswords) sounds trivial and childish until almost the end. Instead of adding to the novel, it detracts. Admittedly, the clockwork mechanism does function well in the few last chapters, and the very action of reading the book and assembling its narrative become a thriller in itself, with the reader in the role of the detective, with two different endings depending on the gender of the reader and an unsolved ending that is probably a character's revenge on the reader. By the end of the book we realize that the puzzle to solve is not the one that we thought (the fate of the protagonist's father) but has to do with our own interaction with the two protagonists, each busy with her or his own life while we intruded on them.

Persecutions caused Christian monks to disperse and create their own isolated communities. They eventually divided into two castes: the solidaries or cenobites, who favored communal life, and the solitaires or idiorhythmics, who favored solitude. The Serbian architect Atanas Svilar, none of whose designed was ever actually built, and chronically affected by hay fever, lives a mediocre failed life with his wife Stepanida (whom he doesn't love) and their son Nikola (not having had the courage to elope with his past lover Vitacha Milut). One day he decides to find out what happened to his father Kosta, who disappeared during World War II. This entails leaving home on his own. In between the episodes of this search Pavic tells the mythological story of how monks moved from Mt Sinai to Mt Athos, and how Slavs founded monasteries next to the original one, in particular the Serbs established Chilandar. Eventually he learns that during the war three Serbian soldiers escaping the Nazis were secretely taken to Mt Athos. When he arrives at Chilandar in Mt Athos, the monks seem to have been expecting him. They confirm that his father was one of the three soldiers who hid in the monastery until the Germans came. Then a monk helped them escape but nobody can tell him what became of the fugitives. A monk also shows Atanas the garden that his father created, a garden from which all of Atanas' thoughts and actions have sprouted.
This ends the linear narrative. Next the reader can choose how to read the rest of the book based on two crosswords. (I personally ignored this boring trick and read the chapters sequentially).
Atanas Svilar, the failed architect, has now become a rich businessman, thanks to an engineering and pharmaceutical company that he started in California with his friend and fellow architect Obren. His real last name was actually Razin, son of a Russian genius who went from being illiterature to becoming a great mathematician Atanas, who discarded his last name when he moved to Vienna, met his future wife Vitacha Milut and her sister Vida at the Belgrade Opera. Atanas' notebooks reveal that he was always obsessed with the buildings used by Yugoslavia's communist dictator Tito, even after he became rich in California. The narrator who read these notebooks tells us that Vitacha is the heroine of this book. Amalia Riznich, descendant of an aristocratic Polish family, inherited a family estate in Bachka and lived a lazy life. She eventually married the engineer Pfister. They had a son who was afflicted by a disease that made him age ten times faster than usual, so that he died at the age of seven. Amalia divorced Pfister, who had lost all his money trying to build a dirigible, but then adopted him as a son without recognizing him until he revealed himself. They parted again and she got ill. Someone recommended medicinal muds in a faraway place. Amalia traveled there only to find out that it was her Bachka estate, that she had not visited in 50 years.
We then learn that Vitacha was Atanas' second wife. Vitacha's birth was due to her great-great-grandmother Amalia reaching her Bachka estate. Vitacha was raised by her maternal grandmother Yolanta because her father, a captain, was internet in a German concentration camp during World War II. Vitacha (and her sister Vida) first met Atanas in school. Vitacha was given in marriage by her father to a family friend, a major, from whom she had two daughters. Then she ran away to the USA with Atanas, who dumped his wife and son.
Atanas in his old age, now a rich businessman, visits his old friend Olga, who has not been happy in her life but has had grandchildren, unlike Atanas. He offers to buy her progeny, literally her great-great-grandchildren and the property on which they will live from her: they will have to bear his last name. In another chapter we learn that Atanas obtained a contract about Olga's great-great-grandchildren from her sister Azra, who promised to deliver.
Now the narrative is rudely interrupted by the narrator, who claims to be a schoolfriend of Atanas and who explains why the book is structured like a crossword puzzle: because Atanas was a fan of crossword puzzles. He paid someone to send him all the crosswords that included Vitacha's names and nicknames, his company's name or his own initials. The narrator then gives us instructions on the two main ways to "solve" (not "read") this book: across and down.
The narrator tells us that Atanas' notebooks frequently contain a "landscape painted with tea" besides detailed sketches of Tito's building.
Atanas' mother tells her own story, of how she went to Russia, married Fyodor (Razin), got pregnant with Atanas, moved back to Serbia, married Kosta (Svilar), and raised Atanas. Thus Atanas grew up thinking that his father was Kosta, the officer who disappeared in Mt Athos. Atanas' married writes that Atanas was always in love with Vitacha, so his first marriage didn't have a chance. When he came back from Athos, having realized that his real father was not the one who was looking for, he fled to the USA with Vitacha, leaving his wife and his son Nikola, and adopting the last name of his real father, Razin. And now we also learn that Nikola was not his son.
More details about Atanas' and Vitacha's escape emerge: they went to Vienna, where they stayed at Vida's place. Vida, Vitacha's sister, who know lives in the old Pfister apartment (she is the great-granddaughter of Amalia's illegitimate Pfister daughter). Vida married Amadeus Knopf after his married Rebecca fled with another woman, Theofana Tsikindjal.
Vitacha was already married to Atanas in California when her daughters were murdered. Their father, the major, swore to find the murderer. One day he found the weapon and collected the fingerprints. Knowing that only someone from the army could have that weapon, he set out to take fingerprints of all of his friends, even suspecting his own superior Krachun. Eventually and accidentally the major found the right fingerprints on a glass: those were his own fingerprints. Then he shot himself.
In the house of Olga's other sister Cecilia the aging Atanas, still trying to buy himself a progeny, meets a child, Don Azeredo, who claims to be a descendant of Satan, and who warns him against signing any of those contracts for great-great-grandchildren. Azeredo also predicts that Vitacha will dump him for someone much younger.
Someone who travels with Vitacha writes letters to Azeredo about precisely that prophecy. Vitacha returned to Europe for her sister's funeral and became a famous opera singer in Italy. One day Atanas realized that he was mutating into the deceased Vida and even started wearing female underwear. He also inherited her manic jealousy and began to suspect his wife and Amadeus. But, as Azeredo had predicted, Atanas should have feared someone else, someone much younger than the old an impotent Amadeus.
We read Vitacha's own diary written after she left her husband, living abroad with her loyal Italian maid Nicoletta, and we learn the name of the lover who stole her from Atanas: I am that lover, I the reader of Pavic's novel. Vitacha fell in love with the reader of the book about her. This chapter ends with the promise that Atanas is going to take his revenge on the reader.
At the same time we keep reading the letters sent by Azeredo's loyal servant who is with Vitacha in Italy and reports about her every move (and at this point we strongly suspect the Italian maid Nicoletta). This spy tells Azeredo that Vitacha is now poor and destitute, as her husband Atanas, living alone in California, has stopped paying her bills, and she has abandoned the opera. We learn that Atanas has sent a killer to Italy but with the instructions to kill his wife only if a reflection in the water showed a male face, not if it showed a female face. He did exactly as instructed. I the reader can find out what the face was that Vitacha saw reflected in the water by using the alphabetical index, which contains some selected words taken from some selected chapters. By solving the anagram, i obtain a sentence (published upside down at the end of the book) that says that she saw me in the reflection. Hence, since i am a man, the killer killed Vitacha; but if i had been a woman, Vitacha would still be alive.
After separating from his wife, Razin lived alone in the USA. He sold his corporation and with the money he set out to build replicas of every building belonging to Yugoslavia's dictator Tito right there in the USA, and, in fact, in the capital of the USA. He basically reverted to his youth's dream of being an architect, and even signed himself Svilar, as he was known when he was a poor failed architect who never built one of his projects. He even buys Caribbean islands to build Tito's summer residence, replete with a Roman aqueduct, a Byzantine church, a Benedictine monastery and three exotic zoos. Eventually he retires in the White Palace that he has built next to the White House. And one day he finds a baby abandoned in a cradle in a corner of a balcony. The baby yells at him in a vulgar language and (quote) "The reader will not be so stupid not to remember what happened to Atanasije Svilar, whose name, for some time, used to be Razin". But of course we don't remember anything about this episode. Either Pavic is testing the reader's power of concentration or, more likely, this is Atanas' revenge on the reader who stole his wife Vitacha: by leaving me with another unsolved puzzle just when I thought I had solved the puzzle, he is taking his revenge on me, the man who stole his wife.
(Note: Pavic claimed that "the ends of this novel differ from each other depending on whether the novel is read vertically or horizontally", but i don't think so: if you read the novel vertically, it is just a boring read, and then you will probably re-read it horizontally).

The novel "Hazarski Recnik/ Dictionary of the Khazars" (1988) is organized, or better disorganized, as a set of independent stories that are arranged alphabetically, not chronologically, but do tell a chronological story. The entries have links to each other like in a hypertext. One can read the chapters in any order and still get the same story (in a manner similar to Julio Cortazar's "Hopscotch"). Pavic creates a meta-historical novel a` la Danilo Kis' "A Tomb for Boris Davidovich" by reconstructing and retelling a historical fact (in Pavic's case the meta-fiction is more complex because it has three layers, the original events, a 17th century investigation and a 20th century reconstruction). All of the entries are full of erudite references, some of them true and some of them imaginary, but this is erudition at the service of a comic and fairy-tale style, a style that enjoys taking the reader on a wild goose chase. The events take place in and around Istanbul, a place where Serbian, Greek, Russian and Turkish civilizations meet, mix and collide. By the end of the book the whole notion of the credibility of dictionaries and scholarly research has been demystified: the dictionaries that were printed and lost were actually the product of a monk's memory, which might or might not be reliable, especially since this monk was famous for adding his own variants and extensions to the texts that he was copying in the monastery. Indirectly, Pavic throws a vail of ironic suspicion over the entire process of reconstructing ancient history. Even if the monk's memory was indeed so formidable to remember everything, we are faced with the fact that the "dictionary" was actually just a collection of legends told by an esoteric sect (the "dream hunters"), whose ultimate goal was not to document a civilization but to reconstruct the mythical body and soul of Adam the progenitor, a concept that sounds more Hindu than Western. This universe is fundamentally random, as it is showed at several steps: the prisoner who sends out and receives messages in a language he doesn't understand; the man who replies to adverts of a century earlier and randomly acquires objects; the translator whose accuracy depends on his mood; etc. To add insult to injury (to the charisma of scholars), the novel exists in two versions, a male version and a female version, and the two differ only for a few lines towards the end, which make absolutely no difference despite what Pavic claims at the end.

We are informed by the author that the user of the 1691 edition of this dictionary died. The dictionary talks about events that happened centuries earlier. The Khazars were a mysterious nation that appeared out of nowhere and disappears in the same way in 943 when the Russians annexed their territory. It is known that they converted to a monotheistic religion but not to which one. The king had a Muslim dervish, a Jewish rabbi and a Christian monk compete but it is not known who won. In 1691 a Polish publisher in Prussia assembled all the information about the Khazars, Daubmannus, in a book titled "Lexicon Cosri", apparently dictated by a monk who had memorized the entire story of the Khazars. In 1692 the Inquisition destroyed all copies of the dictionary except two: a poisoned one and a silver one. Any reader of the first version would die on the ninth page. Both copies were destroyed and only fragments have survived. This is an attempt to reconstruct the original, and, like the original, it is organized according to Muslim, Jewish and Christian sources, but, unlike the original, they are not quoted in Arabic, Hebrew and Greek.

The Christian (red) book begins with Ateh, the princess who played a decisive role in the conversion of the Khazars. At night she used to wear killing letters on her eyelids. She never managed to die although there is a record of her death: she died when she saw herself in a mirror, still wearing the deadly letters.

Next comes Avram Brankovich, one of the authors of the lexicon (hence 17th century). His story was narrated to the Austrian court by his scribe Nikon Sevast. Avram had a foster son created out of mud, Petkupin, who got married to Kalina. She got killed horribly by ghosts and then turned into a ghost herself who killed an ate him. Avram considered all of this a successful experiment. He then turned to Kuros, an imaginary being who turned out to be the devil Samuel Cohen appearing in his dreams. The devil challenged him to meet again in 300 years to see if the Christian church had survived. Both Avram and the scribe were killed in battle. The general who killed Avram called him "Cohen".

Next is Cyril, originally a philopher of the 9th century named Constantine, who become a monk, renamed himself Cyril, and traveled with his brother Methodius to the court of the Khazar king to debate the Jewish and Muslim scholars. Along the way he invented the Cyrillic alphabet.

Princess Ateh was the leader of the sect of the "dream hunters", people capable of entering other people's dreams like fish in the sea. Several versions of the conversion to Christianity are given. In the first one a Jewish magician creates a clone of the king, but the clone does not fool his wife, Ateh. The king becomes terrified of the monster, sentences him to death, allies with the Greeks and converts to Christianity. In the second one the Byzantine emperor dispatches Constantine/Cyril and his brother to the court of the Khazar king, where the two win over the Jewish and Muslim scholars thanks to help from princess Ateh. In the third version the Khazar king attacks Byzantium and asks for a Greek princess, in return for which the Byzantine emperor asks him to convert to Christianity. The Khazar king actually despised the sect of dream hunters, who were instead protected by his wife Ateh. Methodius witnessed the death of his younger brother Constantine/Cyril.

Nikon Sevast was originally a gifted left-handed painter until the archangel Gabriel appeared to him and warned him not to use his left hand to paint. He became nonetheless famous for his right-handed paintings but one day he couldn't resist and started painting with the left hand again. Initially it looked like there was no divine punishment for disobeying the archangel, but soon Nikon realized that all the monasteries were hiring other painters, who were as good as him. Nikon stopped painting forever. He announced to his loyal friend Theoctist that a diplomat in Istanbul would hire them as scribes: Avram. Another man at the service of the diplomat was Skila, a dream hunter who one day realized that Avram was dreaming Cohen and Cohen was dreaming Avram. Nikon also collected saber strokes. Grgur Brankovich, eldest son of the diplomat, was killed by the Turks, hauled on a pillar and used as a target for archers.

Next we are introduced to the Serbian scholar Isailo Suk, an archeologist specializing in Arab antiquities, on his last year of life, 1982, on the morning when he woke up with a golden key in his mouth that he estimated to be at least one thousand years old. His mother does not seem to understand that he is the same Suk who has written the book that she holds dear and that she likes to read to her son. She reads passages of the book to her son not realizing that it is her son who wrote them. She also delivers to little Gelsomina the cello that Suk bought for Gelsomina as if Suk himself was not standing there. Suk, on the other hand, cannot hear Gelsomina's voice. Suk thinks that he owns the poisoned copy of the 1691 dictionary and therefore only reads four pages at the time of it. He is attending a conference in Istanbul.

The "green" book, i.e. the Islamic one, introduces Akshany, the avatar of Satan that appeared to the great lute player Masudi in the 17th century. Akshany manipulated a Christian general, Avram, to commit evil, and was later gored to death by a cow in 1699. One year later he had become a shopkeeper, who died of a gunshot. But other legends claim he didn't die at all.

Ateh is reintroduced as a poetess who helped Farabi win the "polemic" and convert the Khazars to Islam. Due to the curses of the Christian and Jewish scholars who lost the polemic, Ateh lost her memory and became the head of the dream hunters, and notably managed the feat of sending an object, a key, to someone else via a dream. Masudi met her centuries later and she was still alive. Masudi, armed with an Arabic version of the Khazar dictionary, was researching dream hunters but failed to realize that the woman was Ateh. The conversion to Islam of the nation was chronicled by Al Bakri. His life's notable event was to end up prisoner speaking fluently the language of his captor but not understanding a word of it. He kept sending out messages written on shells without knowing what he was writing. The only surviving fragment of the 1691 Prussian edition of the Khazar dictionary is a cryptic esoteric page about the angel Adam Ruhani. The green book also has an entry about the nameless Khazar king who converted the nation to Islam. He picked Farabi as the winner of the polemic after Farabi gave the king the best explanation of his dream of an angel.

Adam Ruhani was the logo of Ateh's dream hunters. The entry of the Khazars tells us that it was a truly multinational empire. Besides hunting dreams, the Khazars were capable of exchanging fates with each other, so that one could shift into the life of someone else. The Khazars ate the unique fruit "ku", that was also the only word remembered by Ateh after her memory was wiped out. Ateh's intervention in the "polemic" that converted the Khazars is given completely different from the one given in the Christian book; and equally mystifying. But there existed also a text according to which Farabi had nothing to do with the conversion because he died before even reaching the king's court.

Legendary lute player Masudi, one of the authors of the "green" book, gets one of the longest entries. Instructed in the art of dream hunting by an old man who was basically a hunter of dream hunters, and who told him the legend of Adam Ruhani, an angel who was the sum of all dreams, i.e. human nature, Masudi became obsessed with rediscovering the Khazar world through the dreams that he could inspect. Basically, the green book is the result of Masudi navigating other people's dreams. He became obsessed with tracking down a specific character, and eventually a sexless woman told him his name: Cohen. Cohen was a Jew trying to compile the same dictionary of the Khazars. In a dream dreamed by the sexless woman Cohen pronounced the same sentence that the angel pronounced to the Khazar king that led to his conversion. But Masudi never got to finish the dictionary. First he met the demon Akshany at an inn and marveled at the sound of his lute. Then Masudi figured out why he was unable to find Cohen: someone else was dreaming of Cohen, there was a third lexicographer, a Christian. Masudi headed to Istanbul and used the Khazar Dictionary as bait: he offered it at a market and then followed the buyer, Theoctist, to his master, Avram. Masudi found employment at Avram's service and followed him when he went to war against the Turks in order to be able to read Avram's dreams of Cohen, which chronicled Cohen's approach. They tragically met on the battlefield: Avram was killed by the Turks, Cohen (working as the interpreter) was among the Turkish troops and fell asleep, and Masudi begged the Turks to let him live for as long as Cohen dreamed of Avram's death, but then he was killed too.

The Christian dream hunter Al Safer, who played chess with a monk across the Black Sea (one move a year), impregnated 10,000 virgin nuns. The last victim was princess Ateh, who sent him the golden key to her bedroom, but then the king had Al Safer put to death.

Muawia, a 20th century Arab scholar, believes that two copies of the Khazar Dictionary have survived. Wounded in a war, he spends his days answering ads from century-old newspapers and accumulating all sorts of random objects that he receives from the heirs of the businesses who posted those ads. A computer finds what all these objects have in common: they were all mentioned in the Khazar Dictionary. Muawia is assassinated in Istanbul in 1982.

The yellow (Jewish) book restarts with Ateh, but here Ateh is the princess who helped the Jewish scholar Isaac Sangar win the "polemic" and convert the Khazars to Judaism. The Islamic scholar was so upset of losing that he cursed Ateh. She lost her memory but she had already compiled the dictionary in Khazar language and taught it to parrots, who taught it to other parrots; and centuries later Avram found a parrot who was still speaking that language and reciting sentences from Ateh's book. Ateh protected the dream hunters (her dictionary was nothing but a collection of their dreams) and her lover, Al Safer, was the best of them and was sentenced to death by the king. (For a while the lovers kept communicating via messages inscribed on shells, but at some point Ateh's memory was wiped out by the Muslim scholar and so she couldn't understand them anymore. Also she was able to send him via dreams the golden key to her bedroom once a year).

Samuel Cohen lived in the 17th century in Dubrovnic and was one of the authors of this book. He fell in love with the aristocratic Ephrosinia, who revealed herself to be a demon. His esoteric research eventually cost him dearly and was sentenced to exile. Two rabbis examined his library and found the dictionary of the Khazars. They also found Cohen's notes, in which he speaks of two other people compiling a similar dictionary, one Christian and one Muslim, of which he dreamed. He dreamed as well of reaching Istanbul. Banished, he headed towards Istanbul (Ephrosinia tried to make him stay and promised they would meet again but in other forms) but never reached it. He witnessed the killing of Avram and immediately knew who Avram was: the Christian lexicographer whom he had been dreaming of. Cohen dreamed Avram's death and Avram's servant Masudi pretended to be able to dream Cohen's dream of Avram's death, but Cohen's coma never ended.

One entry is about Daubmannus, the Polish-Prussian publisher of the first edition of the Khazar Dictionary, titled "Lexicon Cosri". This time a legend is related that the real publisher was an apprentice who took the name of the publisher when inheriting the business, who printed the book as it was dictated to him from memory by a monk, Theoctist, and who died reading it because it was printed on poisoned paper.

Judah Halevi, a 12th century Spanish poet, wrote the first account of the Khazars, of the polemic and of their conversion; and a 17th century translation in Latin, the "Liber Cosri", became a bestseller throughout Europe. This entry comes with a three-page chronicle of all editions and a detailed bibliography.

The Khazar king who had the dream of the angel and who staged the polemic is here either the brother or the father of princess Ateh, and the dream is slightly different. The conversion to Judaism took place in 740 (according to Judah Halevi) and the Khazars pretty much disappeared after being conquered by the Russians in 970. Before Isaac Sangar left for the "polemic" he was given a brief account of the customs of the Khazars, in which it is mentioned that their "dictionary" assembles the books of the dream hunters, a powerful religious sect, and is ultimately the portrait of just one character, Adam Cadmon, and it is a very cryptic and esoteric text.

The last and longest entry is about Dorothea Schultz, a 20th century woman of Polish-Jewish origin. She left her native Poland, studied in the USA, and moved to Israel where she married the handsome Isaac, but Isaac was wounded by an Arab, Muawia, and left with a broad scar. Dorothea became obsessed with that scar that separated her from her husband every time they made love. She felt that she was being raped by this Arab. Dorothea started writing letters to herself to her old address in Poland, and those letters constitute a sort of diary of her madness. She was a scholar in Cyril, the Christian of the polemic whose Khazar orations had mysteriously disappeared; and one day she realized that Muawia too was studying the same era and events, and one day in 1982 they got invited to the same conference in Istanbul, and that day she decided to kill him. At the conference she first met Suk, who told her about Daubmannus' "Khazar Dictionary", apparently lost forever. Then she met Muawia, who approached her because he had news of Cyril's Khazar orations. This is where Pavic's novel splits into a male and female version. In the male version, Dorothea is ready to shoot Muawia but refrains from doing so because what he tells her is amazing: he has discovered that fragments of Cyril's orations are to be found in Judah Halevi's chronicles of the Khazars. (In the female version, Dorothea hardly reads at all Muawia's documents because she is so raptured by his sensuality, but the outcome is the same). At the end of their conversation Muawia asks her to help him get in touch with the man who has discovered a copy of Daubmannus' "Khazar Dictionary": Suk himself, who just told her that all copies have been lost. Dorothea's madness does the rest: she "finds" Suk dead, smothered with a pillow, and she "hears" someone shoot Muawia dead with her gun. She is arrested as the killer, although she writes her last letter to herself professing her innocence.

This is where the three books (the Christian, the Muslim and the Jewish, i.e. the red, the green and the yellow) end. There are two apprendices. The first one is about Theoctist, the 17th century compiler of the Khazar dictionary. Theo was a monastery scribe who became famous because he wasn't simply copying a text, he was adding his own variations and extensions to the text. He became the assistant to the head calligrapher, Nikon Sevast. Nikon's face was the only thing that fooled Theo's otherwise immense memory. They became itinerant scribes: Theo could memorize any text of any length in any language, and Nikon could write it in the most beautiful language. They were eventually hired by Avram Brankovich in Vienna and they followed him when he became a diplomat in Istanbul. There Avram hired a Muslim servant, Masudi. Among his many meditations, at one point Theo meditates that eternity comes from God and time from Satan. Theo memorized Masudi's Arab manuscript. One day Masudi had an argument with Nikon and accused him of being a demon, which Nikon admitted candidly. It was then that Theo realized that his face was identical to Nikon's face. Nikon had always been interested in Avram's "Khazar Dictionary". One day he burned it and cut the tongue of the parrot that was reciting it. Theo comments that the Khazar dream hunters were reconstructing the body of Adam, the original soul, that exists not in space but in time. Nikon also burned Masudi's copy of the dictionary, but Theo had memorized it already, without understanding it. The trio followed Avram to the battlefield. Theo had the impression that Avram was waiting for someone, and Theo was avidly waiting to see the third dictionary, the Hebrew one. Sure enough Cohen showed up and fell into a coma when Avram was killed by the Turks. Theo stole his Hebrew manuscript and memorized it trying not to understand a word of it. Back in Poland, Theo sold (and dictated from memory) the three dictionaries in the three languages to the publisher, Daubmannus.

The second appendix is the minutes of the trial of Dorothea. The main witness is one Virginia Ateh, who testifies that Muawia was shot dead by the four-year child present at the scene, after the child ranted against Western democracy. Obviously the prosecutor attacked the witness as not credible, especially after Virginia admitted being an Israeli citizen (a fellow citizen of Dorothea's), although of Khazar descent. Besides, only Dorothea's fingerprints were found on the gun (the child was wearing gloves all the time). And the motive was obvious once it became known that Dorothea's husband had been wounded in war by Muawia. Nonetheless Dorothea produced an unassailable alibi: when Muawia was murdered she was busy killing Suk. The mother of the four-year old child, Van der Spaak, had been seen in Suk's room just before his murder, but Dorothea's confession cleared her. Dorothea was sentenced to prison for Suk's murder, leaving Muawia's murder unsolved, and she kept writing letters to herself from prison. We are told that Suk had a golden key that opened Virginia Ateh's room. In the room of the Van der Spaak family a bill was found that read "1689+293=1982". The investigators ignored it, but we the readers know that the first date is when Avram, Cohen and Masudi died, and 293 is the number of years that passed before Suk and Muawia died.

Summarizing. Three characters of the 17th century (Avram Brankovich, Cohen, Masudi) belonging to three different religions, each dreaming of the other two, are obsessed with recreating the destroyed Khazar Dictionary. Avram, Cohen and Masudi are basically reincarnated 300 years later as the scholars Suk, Dorothea and Muawia. Theoctist (17th century) and Suk (20th century) are the only ones who read the Khazar Dictionary in its entirety. Theoctist is the only one who survived reading the entire manuscript, but he didn't understand two thirds of it (the Arabic and the Hebrew versions). Suk and Muawia are murdered in 1982 before they can finish reconstructing the dictionary, and Dorothea goes mad. These triads correspond to the three participants in the polemic (Cyril, Farabi and Isaac) and the three chroniclers of the debate (Cyril's brother Methodius, Al Bakri and, centuries later, Judah Halevi). There are also three devils: Nikon Sevast (at the service of the Christian scholar), Akshany (a fellow lute player of the Muslim scholar), and Ephrosinia (lover of the Jewish scholar).

The role played by the Spaaks remains mysterious, but it looks like that family murdered both Suk and Muawia, and let Dorothea be imprisoned of a crime she probably did not commit.

Of course we are not told who has written this new edition of the "Khazar Dictionary", which includes entries for the 20th century protagonists. The only survivor of those who studied the sources is Dorothea... and the ones who probably murdered the other two are the Spaaks...


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