There is no easily discerned plot in the conventional sense, but the central question of the book (the mass religious conversion of the Khazar people) is based on a historical event generally dated to the last decades of the 8th century or the early 9th century when the Khazar royalty and nobility converted to Judaism, and part of the general population followed.
However, most of the characters and events described in the novel are entirely fictional, as is the culture ascribed to the Khazars in the book, which bears little resemblance to any literary or archeological evidence.
The novel takes the form of three cross-referenced mini-encyclopedias, sometimes contradicting each other, each compiled from the sources of one of the major Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism). In his introduction to the work, Pavić wrote:
No chronology will be observed here, nor is one necessary. Hence each reader will put together the book for himself, as in a game of dominoes or cards, and, as with a mirror, he will get out of this dictionary as much as he puts into it, for you [...] cannot get more out of the truth than what you put into it.
The book comes in two different editions, one "male" and one "female", which differ in only a critical passage in a single paragraph.
Pavić stated that the Khazars were a metaphor for a small people surviving in between great powers and great religions. In Yugoslavia, Serbs recognized their own fate; it was the same in Slovenia and elsewhere, a schoolbook on survival. The same in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and on and on. A French critic said, 'We are all Khazars in the age of nuclear threat and poisoned environment
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