Reception

march 3rd, 2005

Dictionary of the Khazars, a Lexicon-novel in 100 000 words (1984), was translated into 24 languages, elected the best novel of 1984 in Yugoslavia (NIN Award) and also the best novel of the last ten years (1992); elected by The New York Times one of the seven best works of fiction in the USA in 1988; number one best-seller in France, and third on the list in Great Britain.

Landscape Painted With Tea. A Novel for Crossword Fans (1988), has had 10 translations. It was voted Novel of the Year in 1988 in Yugoslavia, and is also winner of the National Library’s Readership Award for 1989.

 

Inner Side of the Wind, Or a Novel of Hero and Leander (1991), is a clepsydra novel with two title sides and the ending in the middle of the book. It was elected best book of prose for the year 1991 (the „Borisav Stankovic“ Award). This novel has had 10 translations in different languages.

Last Love in Constantinople (Tarot Novel) (1994), had two awards: the publisher Prosveta’s Award for the best novel of the year, and the „Laza Kostic“ Award. Translated in Greece, Russia and Great Britain.

 Theatre Menu For Ever and a Day (1993), hyperplay, translated into Swedish, Russian and English.

The Fish Skin Hat, A Love Story (1996), Golden Bestseller Award in 1996. Translated into French and Russian.

One of Pavić’s short stories was filmed in 1993. Directed by Dragan Marinković, the movie was called „Byzantine Blue“. In 1991 in France, a theatrical troupe of Theatre du Chateau performed a play called „The Dream Hunters“ adapted from the novel „Dictionary of the Khazars“ and directed by Emannuelle Weisch. Wim Vandekeybus and his troupe Ultima Vez used part of „Dictionary of the Khazars“ for the ballet „Mountains Made of Barking“ (International Theater Festival Waves, Vordingborg, Denmark, 1995). Based on the writings of Milorad Pavić, Zoran Tucić and Zoran Stefanović published a book of cartoons in Serbian and English („Third Argument“, Belgrade 1995). Composer Svetislav Božić was inspired in his music by Pavić’s poetry, using it in the lyrics. „Glinka“ the famous group of Russian singers, has it on repertoire. Danish composer Mogens Kristensen was inspired by „Dictionary of the Khazars“ in 1994 to compose music (violin concerto, duo for piano, and camera ensemble). Centar Group in Belgrade published CD ROM version of the „Dictionary of the Khazars“. American author Michael Joyce dedicated his hyperfiction novel „Twilight“ (1996) to Milorad Pavić and Jasmina Mihajlović.

The Moskovskij hudozhestvenyj akademicheskij teatr imeni A. P. Chekhova, the famous MHAT, founded by Stanislavskij, performed on April 21st and 22nd of 2002 two opening nights of Milorad Pavić’s “theater menu” “Forever and a Day”. This interactive play was produced by Vladimir Petrov and translated by Natalija Vagapova. Of the nine versions offered by Pavić’s love story, the producer chose two, one male with a tragic ending and one female, with a happy end. Before the beginning of the performance the audience votes, and the version that the larger part of the audience chooses is played, which is announced when the audience enters the hall.

Theater critics write that this is the first “interactive swallow to alight in Moscow, onto the curtain of the MHAT next to Chekhov’s gull” – the symbol of this theater. It could be stated that many were more or less shocked that the legendary MHAT of Chekhov and Stanislavskij, which performs classics, was the very one to decide, under the management of the famous actor Oleg Tabakov, to include in their repertoire “the first interactive spectacle” („Novije izvestija“), that the “MHAT will become interactive thanks to Milorad Pavic” („Kommersant“), that this “unrealizable mission”, as noted by “Vremja novostij”, that is, the production of the “modern writer Pavić” entrusted to Vladimir Petrov, a producer from Siberia, who “conquered Moscow without a battle” („Novije izvestija“). Under the title “My First Pavić” in the “Gazeta” the theater critic Darja Korobova writes: “Ten or so brave producers wished to place the unique play “Forever and a Day” by Milorad Pavić on the scene as soon as it was published. When they read the play, they abandoned that idea. Pavic’s dramatic hypertext proved to be very distant from their perception of the scenic… Miraculously, the Russian opening night was performed after all, and where – on the main theater stage of the capital, in Chekhov’s MHAT”. The “Gazeta” further notes: “MHAT need not worry about the fate of this play”. To the contrary, Roman Dolzanski states in the “Kommersant”: “Pavic’s play was not conquered. MHAT barely touched upon this drama.” Irina Vinogradova writes in her commentary entitled “Fragments of eternity in the theater menu”: “This is almost hypnosis. It can even be healing”. “The viewer takes in his portion of joy and leaves content”, says Aleksey Filipov in the “Izvestija” about the female version under the title “Boys to the Right, Girls to the Left”. Elena Jampolskaja concludes in the “Novije izvestija” under the title “Choose or you Lose”: “The election campaign has barely begun. Come to the MHAT, vote for your version, choose your “eternity”. You will not lose… This is a heady, tender, almost bodiless spectacle, created in a calm, Buddhist manner, short and complete, like sighing and exhaling.”

“Radio Belgrade Two” broadcasted every Wednesday during May of 2002 the radio-drama megaproject – “Forever and a Day” by Milorad Pavic in four versions. The piece was performed in the radio-adaptation of Vladimir B. Popović and the production of Melina Pote-Koljević, Djurdja Nesić, Ivana Vujić and Dragana Nikolić. Four composers and numerous acting crews participated in the realization of this interactive play in post-modernistic form. Critics stress the production of Ivana Vujić as the closest to Pavić’s playwriting.

RECEPTION OF THE WORKS OF MILORAD PAVIĆ IN ENGLISH-SPEAKING COUNTRIES

The reception of the works of Milorad Pavić began, to the best of our knowledge, in 1970 in the United States of America. It spread to three continents (England, the United States, Canada and Australia). Those beginnings can be linked to the book “Four Serbian Poets” (Ivan Lalić, Jovan Hristić, Ljuba Simonović, Milorad Pavić) which the American poet of Serbian origin Charles Simić (winner of the Pulitzer Prize) published in New York in 1970. In this book Charles Simić translated five poems written by Milorad Pavić into the English language. After that he also translated Pavić’s poem “Holy Mass for Relja Krilatica” (The Minnesota Review, Spring 1972, No 2, p. 52-56).

With the publishing of the lexicon novel “Dictionary of the Khazars” the field of interest broadened. The English edition of this book came out in 1988 and on this occasion the representatives of the publisher Knopf from New York, along with ten or so other publishers of the works of Milorad Pavić, at the Frankfurt Fair held at the Hesisches Hoff Hotel, announced in the presence of the author Mr. Pavić’s next novel “Landscape Painted with Tea”, which was at the time still in manuscript form.

Since then a large number of publishers in English-speaking countries began publishing Pavić’s books. The following works have been published in English:

Dictionary of the Khazars
Knopf, New York, 1988
Hamish Hamilton, London, 1989
Penguin, London, 1989
Reader’s Club, London, 1989
Vintage International, New York, 1989
Book of the Monte Club, New York, 1990
Dereta, Beograd, 1996 (English translation)
e-book, Stockholm, 2005 (in five languages, including English)

Landscape Painted with Tea
Knopf, New York, 1990
Vintage International, New York, 1990
Hamish Hamilton, London, 1991
Penguin, London, 1992

The Inner Side of the Wind
Knopf, New York, 1993
Vintage International, New York, 1993
Dereta, Beograd, 1998 (English translation)

Third Argument – comic based on the writings of Milorad Pavić
Prosveta, Niš, 1995 (English translation)
A Theater Menu For Ever and a Day
Dereta, Beograd, 1997 (English translation)

Last Love in Constantinople
Peter Owen Publishers, London, 1998
Dufour Editions, Pennsylvania, USA, 1999

eBBM – An e-Book Business Model (Jelena Zdravković, Gordan Zdravković)
Masters thesis at the Gavle University (Sweden), 2004
(Milorad Pavić’s “Unique Item” served as a novel for this book)

Unique Item
Dereta, Beograd, 2005 (English translation)

The Tale That Killed Emily Knorr
Dereta, Beograd, 2005 (English translation)

Two interactive plays written by Milroad Pavić have been posted in English on the internet, “Damascin” and “Glass Snail” (see Pavić’s website www.khazars.com).

In 2003 45 Bleeker Theater from New York put on a play in English based on the novel “Dictionary of the Khazars” by Milorad Pavić, produced and adapted by Erica Gould.

The website of Milorad Pavić (www.khazars.com) is also available in the English language.

* * *

The responses to all of these editions of Pavić’s books have been numerous and it would be difficult to list them all in one place. The publisher “Kov” from Vršac published in 1991 a bilingual (in the original and in Serbian translation) edition entitled “Short History of a Book” (selection of writings on the lexicon novel in 100,000 words “Dictionary of the Khazars” by Milorad Pavić). This book, with preface written by Jasmina Tešanović, contains parts of select critics’ reviews published in Yugoslavia, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Italy, USA, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, The Netherlands, Spain and Israel. Selections from reviews printed in publications in the United States (in English and in Serbian translation), Canada, Great Britain and Australia are given on pages 178-272. These include the reviews of critics B. Mikasinovich; William Goldstein; Charles Fenyvesi; Douglas Seibold; Ilan Stavans; Michael Dirda; Robert Coover; D. J. R. Bruckner; Charles Simic; Peter B. Golden; V. D. Mihailovich; Michiko Kakutani; Paul Gray; John Leonard; Thomas Molnar; Ken Kalfus; Jacques Folch-Ribas; Guy Ferland; Denis Saint-Jacques; Christine Klein-Lataud; H. J. Kirchoff; Stephen Pile; Stuart Evans; David Holloway; Julian Neuberger; Hugh Barnes; Kenneth McLeish; Michelene Wandor; Robert Irvin; John Harvey; Anthony Burgess; Adam Mars-Jones; Nicholas Rothwell; T. J. Binyon; Jillian S. Pritchett; Roz Kaveney; Peter Vansittart и Angela Carter. Ти аутори су објављивали своје критике у листовима World Literature Today, Oklahoma; Publishers Weekly; Kirkus Review, New York; The Washington Times; Chicago Tribune; Columbia Daily Spectator; Washington Post; The New York Times Book Review; World and I, Washington; New York Times; Time Magazine; The Nation, New York; New York City Tribune; Philadelphia Enquirer; The Globe and Mail, Toronto; The Sunday Times, London; The Times, London; Daily Telegraph, London; Glasgow Herald; BBC, Radio 4 London; The Listener, London; Sunday Telegraph, London; Observer, London; The Independent, London; The Weekend Australian; Literary Review, London; Books, London; London Magazine and London Review of Books. The assessment of Pavić’s work has been very clearly given in these reviews. Here are some selections from some of these reviews:

“I have always maintained that tradition is bound to produce selected inclinations and superior achievement… In Pavić’s case, I have a distinct feeling that two centuries of literary tradition have crystallized him into a great novelist…“
B. Mikasinovich, World Literature Today

“What a spooky, zany, preposterous masterpiece… This a virtuoso forgery surpassing the value of the non-existent original ; in short, a brilliant polychrome yarn spun by a compulsively Homeric storyteller…“
Charles Fenyvesi, The Washington Times

“A book so complex and idiosyncratic that it defies easy summary. Its author, Milorad Pavić, born in 1929, is a Yugoslavian poet and professor as well as a novelist; and if Serbo-Croatian writing hasn’t enjoyed the vogue in the west that other eastern European literatures have, perhaps Pavić’s novel will change that. “Dictionary of the Khazars” rivals Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose” in wit, invention and intellect and exceeds it in sheer whodunit intricacy”.
Douglas Seibold, Chicago Tribune

“As with Borges, or Garcia Marquez… Pavić knows how to support his textual legerdemain with superb portrait miniatures and entrancing anecdotes“.
Michael Dirda, Washington Post

“He thinks the way we dream… There are some written narratives often thought of as innovative. Such a book is the Yugoslav poet and scholar Milorad Pavić’s witty and playful “Dictionary of the Khazars”, which, with its chronologically disturbed alphabetized entries and its cross-referencing symbols, allows each reader to “put together the book for himself, as in a game of dominos or cards.” The reader may pursue a topic as with a dictionary, read the book from beginning to end, from left to right or right to left, or even “diagonally”, working “in threes”. He may even, Mr. Pavić suggests, “read the way he eats: he can use his right eye as a fork, his left as a knife, and toss the bones over his shoulder.”
Robert Coover, The New York Times Book Review

Rarely does a novel from Yugoslavia take the European reading public by storm, as has Milorad Pavić’s Dictionary of the Khazars.
World & I, Washington

“Pavić’s simulacrum of historical research portrays a gallery of people madly pursuing the truth of an event that may never have occurred. And those who enter the claustrophobic world of this novel will find themselves involved in the same folly. They will want to know what really happened, and they will fail. But the impression of frustration fades before the enchantment of the quest.”
Paul Gray, Time Magazine

“Strange novel enjoys international reputation… Mega-hit!”
H.J. Kirchhoff, The Globe and Mail, Toronto

“Pavić has taken advantage of the reference-book format to create something that is both a parody of academic scholarship and a non-linear narrative of mystery and romance… Dictionary of the Khazars is, as the author warns, a classic of modern fantasy.”
Robert Irwin, The Listener, London

“Dictionary is a book firmly turned towards life’s most smiling, poignant side – a book that is both universal and uniquely the product of this quirky imagination.”
Nicholas Rothwell, The Weekend Australian

“There is a charming playfulness about the book which makes it both accessible and pleasing to read. It is well on the way to becoming a cult novel of the year in the States…”
T.J. Binyon, Literary Review, London

The appendix of the abovementioned book also lists fragments of reviews given by various authors (D. J. R. Bruckner; Anne Tyler; Jonathan Baumbach; Ron Grossman; Katherine Neville; Thoman Christensen) on Pavić’s second novel, »Landscape Painted with Tea«. The reviews were printed in the New York Times; Philadelphia Enquirer; Chicago Tribune; San Jose Mercury News and the San Francisco Chronicle. Here is one fragment:

“Pavić’s novels could be classified as magic realism… It’s an experiment in flight, an attempt to defy the gravity of ordinary life. It’s also the only novel I know of where the heroine falls in love with the reader. Who could resist that? We have no choice but to fall in love right back.”
Anne Tyler, The Philadelphia Enquirer

The third novel by Pavić translated into English and published by Knopf was “Inner Side of the Wind”. The publisher announced this book with the note: “Pure Pavić” and the book was quickly sold out, after which there was a three-month wait for second-hand copies, claim the internet services that track such matters.

The assessment of Pavić’s works was made clear in the very first English and American reviews. Robert Coover’s article in the New York Times was entitled: „He Thinks the Way we Dream“. In 1988 the New York Times pronounced the „Dictionary of the Khazars“ one of the seven best books of the year by editors’ choice. Among them was also Garcia Marques. In December 1988 the “New York Times Book Review” wrote: “Milorad Pavić’s lexicon novel caused a literary sensation throughout the world – it is the book most talked about, a revelation from Europe after “The Name of a Rose” and “Perfume”. Anthony Burgess notes the following in the “Observer”: “Pavić wished to raise the book, or the Book, or, that is, the Box of Organized Knowledge to the level of a magical object akin to a semi-animal, which can communicate with itself and with other books, and create a book as a lethal weapon…” Angela Carter of the “London Review of Books” said: “The Dictionary of the Khazars fulfills even too well all the conditions that Wallace Stevens set in his essay “Notes toward a Supreme Fiction”…

Apart from these writing by critics, Pavić’s work also attracted the attention of textbook writers and magazine editors who wanted to have separate editions on Pavić. Such was the case with, for example, the American magazine “The Review of Contemporary Fiction”, which dedicated issue XVIII No 2, summer of 1998, to two authors, Milorad Pavić and Curtis White. The texts on Pavić were written by Radmina Jovanović Gorup, Thanassis Lallas, Andreas Leitner, Dagmar Burkhart, Rachel Kilbourn Davis, Tomislav Z. Longinović, Jasmina Mihajlović. In the magazine “Serbian Studies” for 2004 (No 2) Pavić was written about by Benjamin Krat from the Chicago University, Thomas O. Beebee and Lenka Pavlova from the Pennsylvania University. Purely textbook manuals published in New York, San Francisco, Boston, London, Toronto, Sydney, Tokio, Singapore, Madrid, Mexico City, Munich, Paris, Cape Town, Hong Kong and Montreal entitles: “One World, Many Cultures” and “Discovering the Many Worlds of Literature” printed articles on Pavić and a translation of one of his stories selected for teaching purposes.

The English publisher “Penguin” asked Pavić in 1994 to write the accompanying text for the book by Yuriy Stojanov “The Hidden Tradition in Europe”, and this text was printed in the book.

Finally, we should note that in a handsome book entitled “The Ravenous Muse”, printed in New York in 1996, Karen Elisabeth Gordon included fragments from Pavić’s novels in a rich selection of culinary pages of authors from all over the world.

In 1998 a professor of the Chicago University, Andrew Baruch Wachtel dedicated a section of his book Making a Nation, Breaking a Nation: Literature and Cultural Politics in Yugoslavia, Stanford University Press, to Milorad Pavić and focused on his „Dictionary of the Khazars“, attempting to interpret this book in a political context. Mr. Pavić once wrote a letter to me regarding the said text, noting the following:

“Mr. A. E. Wachtel attempted to interpret the “Dictionary of the Khazars” as something that influenced Slobodan Milošević and the falling apart of Yugoslavia. The context of his book prevented him from mentioning such opinions relating to the “Dictionary of the Khazars” as, for example, those of French critics, one of whom said “We are all Khazars”, the opinions of atom physicists who believe that those are a lost people whose name “the Khazars” is compared to an identical name for “black holes in the Universe” and “quasars”. How come this novel has been translated into 38 languages so far, throughout the worls, including English, in which language it was published in England by “Penguin” and in the United States by “Knopf”, and the New York Times named the “Dictionary of the Khazars” one of the best foreign books published in the States in 1988? Since the author tried to portray my work in a political context, it should also be mentioned that after my first affirmative judgments of Milošević, when I saw where Milošević was leading Serbia, I signed a petition requesting Milošević’s resignation. This petition and the signatures was printed in the largest Belgrade newspaper, “Politika”, in 1992. To attack Milošević while he was in office and to do so at home was much more dangerous that to do so from abroad, as many did at the time. The claim of the author that I took part in writing the “SANU memorandum” is false – I became a member of SANU after the writing of the said memorandum, and therefore I could not even have read it, let alone written it…”

It is interesting to note that another professor of the Chicago University nominated Pavić for the Nobel Prize ifor literature at the time, four or five years in a row, and sent copies of these nominations to Pavić, which is why the signatory hereof came to hear of them. A professor of the Arizona State University also nominated Pavić for the Nobel Prize several times.

Numerous internet sites, under the heading ergodic literature, list the information that the books of Milorad Pavić also belong to this type of literature (which comes after “postmodern” literature).

A strange version of the “Dictionary of the Khazars” came out in the United States in 2006 (New York, Alfred A. Knopf, august 2006), as noted by the Google search engine on which the cover of this edition can be found. Three sentences were added to this version which are not present in the original. One of them, for example, is the subtitle “hermaphrodite version”, and there is one threat that says that the food ingested by the author of “Dictionary of the Khazars” Theoktist Nikoljski “to come out of his nose and ears”.

Dragana Rajkov