From the award-winning author of 'My Name is Red' comes this political thriller. After 12 years in Germany, a poet Ka returns to Istanbul for his mother's funeral. In a dangerous political atmosphere, the truth concerning the poet and the snow-covered old world city of Kars is revealed.
There is an undercurrent of paranoia throughout the book. While Ka is disturbed to learn that he's under surveillance, the residents of Kars accept this as normal. Nothing can be taken at face value. The local newspaper publisher writes about the day's events before they happen. Everyone Ka meets has an opinion about who he should trust and who he should avoid – but can he trust anyone's advice?
Ka's thoughts and feelings come second-hand to the reader, through a friend who knows the details of Ka's visit. Does the reader get a clear picture of Ka, or has it been distorted by his friend's interpretation of Ka's actions and motivations?
Like Salman Rushdie in Midnight's Children, Pamuk does provide some interpretive suggestions for the reader. Even with these hints, it still requires effort to work out the symbolism and structure of the novel. I think most readers will find it worth their effort to read, and possibly re-read, since I think it falls in that category of novels that hold back some rewards for the second reading.
Ka is an exiled poet with writer’s block. An intelligent, sensitive and lonely man, he is no hero or danger to the regime and his exile even looks like the result of a misunderstanding. On a return visit to Turkey, he refinds his muse and the poetry begins to flow. A minor local insurgency erupts and the various powers and influences all come to regard him as a pawn in their ambitions. Ka is no hero and though principled he is full of complexes and lies to all around him. His only real concern is finding happiness which he feels has eluded him all his life. The result is a deeply poetic and intelligent novel which explores political and religious questions in modern Turkey. The cast includes lovely characters including an insurgent actor, his adoring complicit belly-dancer wife, a very pliable newspaper editor, a peaceful islamic radical, the beautiful woman who is the object of Ka’s amorous attentions and her veiled sister.
Trying to pin down just what makes me uncomfortable about Turkey, I’ve concluded it’s not Islam. Most of the wonderful characters in this book are worth sharing Europe with. Orhan Pamuk presents all their positions in what sounds to me a balanced way and they all have merit. Naturally, as a westerner, I’m not comfortable with Islamic notions or freedom or individuality, but I don’t think that this is what has convinced me that Europe is not ready for Turkey. I think what turned me against Turkey was the police; the surveillance; the torture; all carried out at the behest of the State. Frequent comparisons with Iran also disturbed me. When Turkey is ready to resolve differences between its very different peoples in a tolerant European way, it will be ready for Europe. Before that, Europe would only be importing tensions that could spread like a virus.
Indeed, Pamuk himself has been on the receiving end of state oppression and a pawn in their European membership ambitions. He was charged with insulting Turkishness, giving rise to an international outcry. The charges were dropped on a technicality when the EU began reviewing the Turkish legal system.
Orhan Pamuk received the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature.
More importantly however I never cam to identify with any of the characters, and thus, as they went through some terrible traumas, you felt you were reading the book, not a story you were caught up in.
Snow by Orhan Pamuk is a masterpiece of literary work. The novel is set in a small isolated border town of Turkey, Kar, where once upon a time rich Russians and Armenians lived and prospered, of which the architectural remains still bear the witness. Kars since then has fallen, its glorious days are over and now the town is in the grip of radical Islam and a playground for radical Islamists, believers in God and the secularists backed by the State (Army and the Intelligence Agencies). The book Snow is essentially about the great chasm that exists between these two forces in the Turkish society and in the world today and how this chasm is hurting our well being. This book also takes a peek into the empty world of persons in the political exile or economic exile (immigrants) cut from their roots living in more prosperous countries.
The protagonist of the book KA is a Turkish poet in political exile in Germany. He was born in a middle class family in Istanbul in a posh area and was educated in the elite schools and colleges of Istanbul. He does not like his full Turkish name and likes to be called by the abbreviation of his name i.e. KA. He is in his forties, unmarried and a loner.
KA returns to Turkey actually in search of beautiful Ipek , a classmate from the school days who has been married and now divorced but his strong ego covers this real reason from Ka himself and he thinks that he has come to Kar to report about the headscarf girls who have been committing suicide in Kar.
The novel is a great political satire where the theatre and politics blend into each others, a newspaper predicts the coming events in Kar and predicts them successfully than reporting the events, the whole machinery of intelligence is deployed to verify the rumors about a Sherbet that has been newly introduced in Kar, that people say poisons the Turks but has no impact on the Armenians, where about a third of the city is employed as informers, an Islamic science fiction written by one of the high school students, people wearing tape-recorders to record the statements of the killers before going into the streets.
Snow also discovers the psychological split in the minds of men and women when the two forces compete for space with each other, when one force has the advantage over the other and the other has only hope. Ka is in love with Ipek and after so many years has come to the conclusion that only love is the answers to find true happiness in this world. Ipek too is attracted to Ka but needs some time to trust. Her sister Kadife, the head of the headscarf girls is a secret mistress of Blue, a radical Islamist, the second most important character in the novel. Ka though in love with Ipek is attracted to Kadife as well who is a hero/heroine for the religious high school boys.
Ipek was married to a radical Islam politician Muhtar who is preparing to become the mayor of Kar with his radical Islamists support base. He has found a mentor in Blue who enters his family life and in no time Ipek falls for Blue that leads to Ipek’s divorce with Muhtar. Very soon the younger Kadife over smarts her own sister and goes out of the way putting headscarf to win Blue’s heart. Ipek now meets Ka and thinks she can learn to love him and they can live happily ever after in Berlin but Blue is raided and killed by the secularists who had been looking for him since years and Ipek thinks Ka is the informer and he did so because of his jealousy for Blue. Though it’s not confirm who was the informer but Ipek can never love Ka as heart thinks he is responsible for the death of Blue. The author here has clearly shown through the love angles in Snow that a radical Islamist is inherently more appealing than a wavering poet who is tolerant and open to all ideas and viewpoints.
Ka returns to Germany alone when the snow is over and the town of Kar gets connected with the rest of the world again but never to live in peace again…he is haunted by the events in Kar, the beautiful Ipek and how he lost the only chance to be happy.
Snow is a brilliant work of art and any true lover of literature, politics, psychology and those who are truly interested in the world we live in today should read Orhan Pamuk’s Snow.
There were times when I felt I would not get through this work. Yet something in the writing drove me on despite my having to re-read bits, reflect and go back in places. I kept asking myself ... why? Was it the politics and my lack of understanding of the situation? Was it the inaccessibility of the unusual? Maybe of more interest I should suggest we ask what is it that kept me going? Something to do with the quality of writing. the clever and reflective use of the 'snow' theme. The latter certainly intrigued me ... I really wanted to learn about Turkey and the state - religion, change, politics and traditions. To be honest what I learnt from this novel seems very much at odds from what I glean from the news and BBC, but hey who says they have the monopoly of what is ‘truth’.
Considering some inexplicable element drove me on I have been trying to understand ‘why’? So what is this book about we wonder? It is about the tensions of change and education, it is involved with politics, East - West tensions and religion, the wearing of headscarves and theatre. We see events from the fundamentalists point of view and their concern regarding the growth of liberalism. We witness the murder of the Director of Education Institute in the New Life Pastry shop. He was wired for sound and we eavesdrop the harrowing conversation with his killer. Violence seems so commonplace in Kars the Turkish town in which the novel is set. Day to day life is in such stark contrast to my life, my expectations of the society in which I live, my freedoms and my professional life. Yet, the counterbalance to this horrendous violence is the love of the main character Ka for Ipek. To say it is complex, multi layered and a challenge is a bit of an understatement as far as this reader is concerned! From time to time I felt I was missing the point or was not sufficiently knowledgeable to understand some of the dialogue and cultural elements.
Overall I think this book is quality and deserving of the acclaim it has received but for me I felt that the author was simply making it too difficult for me, the reader to become truly engaged.
Ka, a poet, has returned from Germany to the city of Kars in northeastern Turkey to investigate the meaning of observant Islamic girls who commit suicide. It's a complex issue of whether a woman should wear the full-covering scarf, and what that means to ones religion and the problem that causes for Turkey's government as a secular state. The story includes a love quadrangle.
The book is called "Snow" in English, which is an apt symbol for this book. It is called "Kar" in Turkish, a name that brings up associations that noone in an English speaking country would have.
The snow symbolizes the theme of silence that permeates the novel. The snow that falls incessantly during the story of the novel is not violent, but relentless, so that passage in and out of Kars is impossible. There is an emptiness when Ka walks the streets of Kars. Another silence is that of Armenians, who used to live widely in this part of Turkey, and are now gone. Their legacy is shown by the number of Armenian buildings pointing to a more glorious past.
Kars is a provincial city (at 130,000 population, it is larger than a town). It is presented as something of a backwater, but with a signficant legacy that can't be proclaimed.
Another silence is that of the 19 poems that Ka writes during his stay in Kars. They were kept in a special green notebook, but are now all lost and no one can even remember the few lines that were spoken publicly. I've wondered whther this is an allusion to the Pamuk not being a poet, or has written unpublished poetry.
The narrator is a person who knows Ka ral well, but never shows up as a character in the novel, but only as a private force, leading me to believe he is some sort of alter ego of the write Orhan Pamuk himself.
It isn't so much the plot that got to me. I'm fascinated to read about Turkey, and about the clash of extremism and secularism. I liked the way different characters are allowed to give their viewpoints.
I like the slightly surreal setting - the impoverished, provincial city of Kar and the relentless snow which has cut it off from the rest of the world. The issues interested me - and I really wanted to know why the "headscarf girls" are committing suicide. I liked the fact that the main character is overcoming his writer's block and getting inspired. And there are some nicely farcical moments (the description of the political theatre is funny).
It feels like a C19th novel. (I feel there are echoes of Dostoevsky.) But the writing is just so terribly terribly DULL. The dialogue is turgid, and not a single character comes alive. Ka (the poet), is such a wimp, I really don't care what happens to him. Much of this may be due to the translation, of course. In this novel of ideas, Pamuk's prose wears heavy snowboots.
During this time, the reader follows the interactions of many characters: Ka, the idealistic poet, irritating, hypocritical and self-absorbed; the shallow, vain and selfish Ipek; Kadife, her sister, the principled leader of the headscarf girls; Blue, a dogmatic and unpleasant reactionary Islamic fundamentalist; Sunay, the farcical and pitiful actor looking for one last moment in the spotlight before his reknown fades. Personally, I found none of the characters that likeable and certainly couldn't empathise with their situations, so what surprised me was how much I liked the novel. Normally, if I don't empathise with anyone, I find it hard to make a connection with a novel. As I analysed this and read further, I realised that the voice of the narrator, a friend of Ka's, that dominates the storytelling in later parts of the novel, appealed to me initially on a subconscious level. At a similar time, without giving too much away, the novel shifts and is no longer about Ka himself, but more about the lost poems he wrote during his time in Kars. His experiences are seen in the context of these mythical, absent entities that become characters themselves. I found myself wishing that they not be found as to hear them would shatter the image of their meaning that Pamuk's description had given me.
Herein lies some of the brilliance of this novel. The reader comes to appreciate the poems from the meaning and inspiration behind them without actually hearing them. First we are introduced to the characters from Ka's perspective, later the narrator (who we are led to believe is Pamuk) sheds new light on them as he travels to Kars in search of Ka's notebook, the poems and some kind of explanation behind events he has recounted.
I won't add more because I don't want to spoil this for anyone who hasn't yet read it. I can say that it is an easy read and on one level not challenging to the reader. On another level, however, as you begin to appreciate the layers in this book, it becomes highly thought-provoking, asking the reader to delve beyond the surface to get the most from it. It is definitely one of my 'Recommended Reads'!
I was perhaps a third of the way through when the mesmerising quality of the novel, the characters and their world began to draw me in. I had only been to Turkey once before reading this book, to Istanbul, so the world of Kars was far outside my own experience. But I've known educated, worldly Turks living in Europe, and I've seen quarters of German cities where exiles live, and I've been close to the way political tensions work between diaspora and exiled individuals and those engaged in an unsatisfactory politics of homeland, and slowly all these elements that I could recognise helped me to get a sense of what Snow meant.
It is a deeply political novel, but not in the sense of 'taking a position' or anything as crude as that. Rather, Pamuk describes the texture of a political culture in which ideological allegiances vie with social ties, and ambivalence pervades all encounters, including sexual encounters.
I read the novel a year ago, but it haunts me still. Last summer I went to Turkey for a holiday, and in a supermarket I saw some cheese from Kars. I knew so little, I hadn't realised that the place was real! The cheese, by the way, is strongly flavoured, distinctive, and has a very weird texture. Much like Snow.
Pamuk uses the image of snow beautifully and effectively as an analogy throughout the story. He also does a wonderful job of capturing the complexity of Turkey as a country that bridges East and West. Pamuk poignantly portrays the nuanced tension between religion and secularism, rich and poor and educated and uneducated. He manages to do this through both plot twists and character development.
That said, at times SNOW seemed like snow itself, a random sprinkling, but of people and of information, particularly related to Ka's poetry. Some of the characters were far better developed than others. And some of the plot points verged on being absurdist.
Even so, SNOW is an important and timely book that deserves to be read.
This rich tale is hard to explain. It unfolds in such a way that it is hard to describe accurately, since what seems important for the first 50 pages or so turn out not to be the main focus of this exploration of the tension between the secularists and the Islamists, politics and performance, personal happiness and duty. The narration distances us from events and characters by its layered narration. Though most of the story is told from Ka's perspective the actual narrator - a friend of Ka's who is unnamed for much of the story - knows the end of events before he begins, and will often speak directly to the reader about these future events. While in Kars (which means "snow"), Ka finds himself able to write poetry even while he is faced with questions about his own identity and faith, or lack of it. He becomes a (possibly?) unwilling participant in events that leave the narrator and reader intentionally fuzzy about exactly what happens. Not for the fainthearted reader, but for one willing to persevere and pick apart the novel, it's a meaty and involving read.
I can't say that I liked this novel as much as Istanbul or My Name is Red but it is still an interesting perspective on Turkey.