Dictionary of the Khazars: A Lexicon Novel in 100,000 Words - Milorad Pavić
This book is like a game of "Remember, Remember". Read the lexicon entries in any order you like, and pay close attention, to connect them by matching up the details you spotted in another context. Who played an instrument made of white tortoiseshell? Who laved his mistress’s breasts with his beard dipped in wine? Follow the mentions of fish and clouds. Recognize characters as they are reincarnated or appear under other names. Time flows both forward and backward like the river in the Khazar Empire which "has two names, because in the same riverbed half of its course runs from east to west, and the other half from west to east." The names that head the dictionary entries promise more definitiveness than you’ll receive, because identities are always uncertain, and existences are always double.

I suppose that one benefit of reading this book is that it requires intense mental effort, which is said to stave off Alzheimer’s disease. If you take the text at its own estimation, you will learn that the words of the Khazar Dictionary are parts of the body of our predecessor Adam, which the initiated have always striven to assemble*. (This goal is constantly thwarted by the mutual hostility of the three Abrahamic religions, as well as by the intervention of demons.) For my part, I delved into the book for the pleasure of phrases like "[The reader] can, with a clear conscience, ... 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." Isn’t that enough?


* Here’s a justification for having separate male and female editions: "[E]ach part captured in the dictionaries could be put into motion and come to life only after the touching of two fingers, the masculine and the feminine." This gimmick is wrapped up in a manner strongly reminiscent of If on a winter’s night a traveler. But I don’t suspect Pavić of copying Calvino; independent invention is always possible.