Snow, Orhan Pamuk, Alfred A Knopf, 2004, 426 pp
My accomplishment is making it all the way through a novel by Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish writer who was awarded the Novel Prize for Literature in 2006. I didn't love it completely but I loved things about it.
Pamuk is the Naguib Mahfouz of Turkey. He writes for his countrymen (who don't appreciate him) and for the rest of the world. He tells us about Turkey, both its history and its present. Such a long, turbulent history, and like Egypt it was at the center of world events for a long time. Many different peoples, religions, and political views accompany the nation's awkward progression into the modern world.
Much of that progression can be found in Snow, seen through the eyes of Ka, a poet, and through various characters from the impoverished and forgotten town of Kars. Ka was raised in Istanbul amidst middle class comforts, as was Pamuk. His youthful political efforts and writitngs earned him exile in Germany but in the novel Ka has returned to Turkey for his mother's funeral.
On a whim, he travels to Kars. It is the dead of winter so he arrives just as a blizzard has closed all roads. Soon he is caught up in personal, political, and religious conflicts because he funded his trip by agreeing to write an article about a recent rash of suicides by Muslim girls who were made to remove the veil. Within the first day he falls in love with the beautiful Ipek. Then he is approached by Blue, the terrorist of the region. As he goes around the town, seeking interviews, religious aspirations and doubts are reawakened but most of all, he breaks out of years of writer's block and begins to write poetry again.
In a combination of literary, melodramatic, and comedic writing, Pamuk drew me into the lives of these very foreign people. I loved the insight into how a poem is written. The love affair between Ka and Ipek is more like a soap opera, showing me that no matter the culture men and women can become fools for love. The suspense builds as Ka digs himself deeper and deeper into the political intrigues of the town until I wondered if he would get out alive.
About two thirds into the novel, the author tells his readers that Ka does return to Germany and meets his doom there but somehow this news does not allay the suspense. I would have to read the book again to figure out how he did that.
Snow was named one of the best books of the year by no less than nine major book review sections, including the New York Times. I agree that it is a feat of literature but possibly has a limited readership. It is a challenging and confusing read at times with a distinctly Middle Eastern tone. I felt rewarded by the reading experience because it is a look into people and places so different from what I know and yet so similar in their humanity.
(Snow is available in paperback on the shelves at Once Upon A Time Bookstore. It is also available in hardcover and eBook by order.)