Sunday, May 04, 2008
For a relatively small country of about 10 million, Serbia has turned out quite a few impressive writers over the past century. Regulars here already know about my love of Zoran Živković's, but the country has produced other illustrious names such as Ivo Andrić, Danilo Kiš, Goran Petrović, David Albahari, and the author pictured to the left, Milorad Pavić.
Out of these authors, Pavić is perhaps the most experimental. A devotee of Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges, Pavić has vowed to explore ways in which to make the reading experience a unique one each and every time that a story of his is published. His first novel, The Dictionary of the Khazars, published in English in 1988, takes the form of an encyclopedia in which three variant explanations as to the religious path that the very real (and quite obscure) Khazar people might have taken in the 9th century CE. Christian, Jewish, and Muslim sections, each with their own color coding, allows for the reader to read any of these sections and their interconnected terms (think Wikipedia-like hyperlinks before HTML was more than the twinkle in the eye of its developers) in whatever fashion suits them best.
In his second novel, Landscape Painted With Tea, Pavić utilizes the form of a crossword puzzle to construct a tale in which the "Across" and "Down" sections may be read in their own groupings before the other is processed. While I did not find the metanarrative to be quite as intriguing as in Dictionary, on the whole the story works. As these are the only two novels of his I have read to date, I cannot share much more than tarot cards are used in one novel, personalized endings for a second, and something called a "delta novel" for an upcoming release of his.
For readers curious to sample Pavić's work for free, I discovered on the author's English-language site that he has posted a full novel earlier this year called Second Body. I shall endeavor to read and perhaps review it in the near future. But in the meantime, I do urge those of you reading this who enjoy nonstandard approaches to writing/reading fiction to try reading Pavić.