Orhan Pamuk – Snow

It took me several months, but I finally finished reading Snow by Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk.  It’s a very dense book, and I don’t think that’s just because I was reading it in translation.

Snow deals with many of the political issues facing modern-day Turkey, of which I am aware from paying attention to the news, but I’m certainly not well-versed in the history or the contemporary problems in Turkey.  It’s part love story, part murder mystery, and part political commentary.  Tensions between Turkey and the West, between Turkey and the Kurds, between Christians and atheists and Muslims all factor into this story.  The book is set primarily in Kars (which you won’t be able to find on Google maps – I looked it up in my parents’ trusty National Geographic atlas), which is in extreme eastern Turkey, close to the borders with Azerbaijan and Iraq.  In Kars, a number of Muslim girls have committed suicide rather than go to school without their heads covered.  Expatriate poet Ka Bey has come to the city, ostensibly to report on the “head scarf girls” suicides, but in actuality he’s there to woo Ipek, a girl he knew in his youth and believes himself to be in love with.  Ka arrives in a snowstorm that shuts down all transportation into and out of the city soon thereafter.  Almost immediately upon his arrival he finds that his muse has returned, and during the four days covered by the main plot of the book, he writes something like 19 poems.

After that, the plot gets a bit hard to follow… Ka stays at the hotel where Ipek lives with her father and sister, Kadife.  There’s a coup, and machinations by the Islamic fundamentalist Blue, and machinations by a washed up actor who was once maybe slated The whole thing is quite confusing.  It’s narrated in the past tense by a friend of Ka’s named Orhan (Pamuk, one would assume), with occasional flashes into the present day (roughly five years after the events described in the main plot).

I think that if I had been able to read this over a shorter span of time, I would be much less confused about it.  Overall, I did enjoy it, but it’s not easy reading and the ending left me feeling rather … at loose ends.


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