The Wind of the Khazars

Written by Marek Halter
Review by Sarah Johnson

Half historical novel, half political thriller, Halter’s novel (translated into English for the first time) creates disturbing parallels between the 10th century and today. The Jewish kingdom of Khazaria flourished a millennium ago in Eastern Europe but disappeared soon afterward, leaving little trace of its existence. Its inhabitants, the Khazars, were a non-Semitic people who adopted Judaism in order to preserve a buffer zone between their nearest neighbors, the Byzantines and the Russians.

When a mysterious man presents modern-day writer Marc Sofer with an ancient coin supposedly of Khazar origin, Sofer pays a visit to the Mountain Jews of Azerbaijan to validate its authenticity. He also investigates claims that the “New Khazars,” a modern terrorist group, are blowing up oil wells in Eastern Europe.

Back in the 10th century, Isaac ben Eliezer journeys from Andalusia to Khazaria to deliver a message from the rabbi of the Sephardi Jews to Joseph, Khagan (ruler) of the Khazars. Delighting in the fact that a Jewish kingdom really exists, the rabbi wishes to know whether Khazaria is the fabled land that Jews around the world have been hoping to find. Upon arrival, Isaac falls instantly in love with Princess Attex, the Khagan’s sister, at the same time that a Byzantine emissary proposes a marriage alliance with her.

The modern part of the tale is an exciting political thriller with international implications, hampered only by a very literal translation. Exclamation points are inserted at odd places in the story, which creates an inappropriately melodramatic tone. Still, the novel makes fascinating reading, especially for readers wanting to learn more about an era and locale far different from our own.