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Fiction

Snow by Orhan Pamuk

What brings me close to God is the silence of snow. – page 60

Three months ago, I stumbled upon Richard of Caravan De Recuerdos and group reading plan for the year and saw “Snow” is the July’s book of the month. E.L. Fay is hosting this month’s discussion.

KA, full name Kerim Alakusoglu, an exiled poet, returns to Turkey and travels to the forlorn city of Kars. He is there to report on a wave of suicides among religious girls forbidden to wear their head scarves in school. But Ka is also drawn by his memories of the beautiful Ipek, now recently divorced from Muhtar. In fact Ipek is sooooo… beautiful that every man that came in contact with her gasp at awe of her beauty and fell uncontrollably in love, including the narrator Pamuk… 🙂 I disbelieve so it is with Richard’s Snow, Interrupted rant for a stop in dramatic, lovesick protagonist Ka’s dialogue with Ipek that draw a knowing smile of how cheesey some of the romantic lines could be!

That didn’t dampen the intrigue I harbour for the subject matters of this book. Amidst blanketing snowfall and distrust between political parties in Kars, Ka finds himself pulled by these different groups of men to further their agenda. This is a paranoid police state where every conversation is recorded, movements under surveillance and most dangerous of all, men with dogmatic ideals and little tolerance who spare no mercy on suspects. There is the state, the MIT (The National Intelligence Organization (Turkish: Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı, MİT) is the governmental intelligence organization of Turkey. It was established in 1965 to replace the National Security Service), the Islamist movement who all uses the vehicle of media, the Theatre, the poets, the newspaper publication to propagate their cause. Pamuk have created a microcosm of the Turkish people struggle within the city of Kars, all encompassing, multi-facet.

The setting of the book is at the city of Kars, close to the border of Georgia and Armenia at the very East of Turkey.

At an altitude of 1,750 meters, lying at the foot of Kars Kalesi, the impressive citadel, Kars has known a turmoiled history. For a short period (928-961)Kars became the capital of the Armenian Bagratid kingdom. During this time the Cathedral of the Holy Apostles was built. In 1064 Kars was conquered by the Seljuk Turks under the command of Alp Arslan. Afterwards, the city was retaken by the joined Georgian-Armenian forces and was part of the Georgian kingdom for about 300 years. In 1514 the Ottoman Turks conquered Kars and extended it with Kars Kalesi, a strong fortress as protection against the Persians. During the 19th century Kars was often invaded by the Russians, the last time from 1878 to 1920. The Russian legacy can still be seen in much of the town’s architecture.

Back to the book, as Ka got caught in the web of political conspiracy, Ka witness a bloody coup at the theatre, found his true love, put his life in danger. His life interweave intricately with people of Kars. There is Ipek and her sister Kadife, the leader of the Muslim women who is mistress of Blue, an extremist who escapes from arrest in Germany; Sunnay the eccentric Colonel and theatre director with his actress wife Funda. Necip and Fazil two young men who works for the Islamist movement, both are infatuated with Kadife.

The book is told by Pamuk as the narrator and a close friend of Ka. The narrator tells the story not from the notebook, which is lost or stolen, but from notes in Ka’s handwriting that he finds four years later in the poet’s flat in Frankfurt. Towards the middle of the book the reader will learn that there is not going to be a happy ending for Ka. The blurb calls this a political thriller but my idea of thriller is that it should move very fast but Snow doesn’t feel like that. Part of the book is slow and Snow opens each chapter with a tag line that more or less gave away the intent of what’s to come. There is a lot happening in this book and Pamuk has a talent to launch into a long convoluted political, nonetheless interesting discourse with a single idea. Ahhh… To take off or not to take off the headscarf, that is the question… now can we move on to the story please? I often wonder. I attribute a part of it to cultural differences. The plot seems melodramatic and there are things that make no sense and sort of weird. Why would someone stop at the stairs and write a poem that came into mind when he has got a life and death important message to deliver? Why would someone wants to stage his own death during a play? I don’t get it.

What this book did it for me was the description of snow. In South England there are not many snow-covered days but when it is snowing it fills me with a sense of peace and tranquility that I can’t find elsewhere.

The sight of snow made her think how beautiful and short life is and how, in spite of all their enmities and the greatness of creation, the world in which they lived was narrows. That’s why snow drew people together. It was as if snow cast a veil over hatreds, greed, and wrath and made everyone feel close to one another. – page 111

and some of my favourite passages:

“I admire your courage in admitting you’re afraid. I’m the coward to end all cowards, believe me. The only ones who survive in this country are the cowards. But there’s not a coward in the world who doesn’t dream of the day when he might find himself capable of great courage. Don’t you agree?” asked Sunnay. To which Ka replies “As I said, I’m very happy right now. I have no desire to play the hero. Heroic dreams are the consolation of the unhappy. After all, when people like us say we’re being heroic, it usually means we’re about to kill each other – or kill ourselves.” – page 308

“Listen to me: Life’s not about principles, it’s about happiness”. Ka said to Kadife. “But if you don’t have any principles, and if you don’t have faith, you can’t be happy at all,” said Kadife. “That’s true. But in a brutal country like ours where human life is cheap, it’s stupid to destroy yourself for the sake of your beliefs. Beliefs, high ideals – only people living in rich countries can enjoy such luxuries.” said Ka. “Actually, it’s the other way round. In a poor country, the only consolation people can have is the one that comes from their beliefs.” retort Kadife.

So the debates goes on….

Serdar Bey accuse Ka in the Border Gazette of being so “ashamed of being a Turk that you hide your true name behind the fake, foreign, counterfeit name of Ka”.

Happiness is finding another world to live in, a world where you can forget all this poverty and tyranny. Happiness is holding someone in your arms and knowing you hold the whole world. – Ka page 326

Ka was convinced that everyone has his own snowflake; individual existences might look identical from afar, but to understand one’s own eternally mysterious uniqueness one had only to plot the mysteries of his or her own snowflake. – page 376

Religious vs secularism, true love and necessity, political doctrine vs personal beliefs, arts and media propaganda, suicide and self-preservation, European ideals against Oriental beliefs, spiritual belief in God and religious bigotry….. This book asks big questions, injects romance, intrigue and danger and pull it off beautifully. I am willing to overlook some of the character’s weird mentality and fickleness and say I’m glad I read my first Pamuk’s book and I will endeavour to read the rest of his books.

I thank my friend J for sending this book all the way from Edmonton, Canada. A very close 5-star read.

Rating: 

Paperback. Publisher:  Vintage 2005; Length: 245 pages;  Setting: Contemporary Turkey.  Source: Own copy. Finished reading on: 31st July 2011. The book is beautifully translated by Maureen Freely.

About the writer:

Ferit Orhan Pamuk (born 7 June 1952), generally known simply as Orhan Pamuk, is a Turkish novelist.

Pamuk was born in Istanbul and grew up in a wealthy yet declining bourgeois family; an experience he describes in passing in his novels The Black Book and Cevdet Bey and His Sons, as well as more thoroughly in his personal memoir Istanbul. He was educated at Robert College secondary school in Istanbul and went on to study architecture at the Istanbul Technical University since it was related to his real dream career, painting. He left the architecture school after three years, however, to become a full-time writer, and graduated from the Institute of Journalism at the University of Istanbul in 1976. From ages 22 to 30, Pamuk lived with his mother, writing his first novel and attempting to find a publisher.

He is also the Robert Yik-Fong Tam Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University, where he teaches comparative literature and writing. One of Turkey’s most prominent novelists, his work has sold over seven million books in more than fifty languages, making him the country’s best-selling writer. Pamuk is the recipient of numerous literary awards, including the Nobel Prize in Literature 2006, the first Nobel Prize to be awarded to a Turkish citizen.

For more pictures about the city of Kars see: Photo Gallery of Kars

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About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.

Discussion

16 thoughts on “Snow by Orhan Pamuk

  1. Sounds like an interesting book. That is a great quote at the beginning of your post.

    Posted by celawerd | July 31, 2011, 12:42 pm
  2. Looks like you got much more out of this than I did. I wonder who was calling it a “political thriller” because anyone expecting one of those is in for a disappointment. Agreed that part of what bogged it down was that constant back and forth of “to take off or not take off the headscarf” in addition to all the melodrama! I’m glad you noted the silliness of Ipek’s apparently overwhelming beauty because that really seemed to be all there was to her character. Kadife was quite interesting, however.

    I’m from upstate New York where deep snowfall is plentiful so I was able to relate to it on that level. Kars actually reminded me of several cities in our state’s “rust belt” region (particularly Utica and Syracuse) which have seen much better days. Do let me know how Pamuk’s other books turn out because I can’t say Snow left me too enthusiastic about him.

    Posted by EL Fay | August 1, 2011, 12:12 am
    • EL Fay,
      The rave reviews from publishers and writers on the flaps actually said it’s a political thriller. I am one with you on Kadife esp when Ipek is so darn fickle. Thank you for giving me a geographical snapshot of your region and I will read his other books (because they are sitting on my shelves anyway!) and we’ll see if it gets better. 😉 Thanks for dropping by.

      Posted by JoV | August 1, 2011, 1:38 pm
  3. This book has sat on my shelf unread for about 3 years. I really does sound excellent so I am not sure why I have not taken the plunge?? Loved your review.

    Posted by (Diane)BibliophileBytheSea | August 2, 2011, 11:00 am
  4. I must admit this is my second favourite by him I love the feel of the story and his slow build up he isn’t a writer you can ever read quick ,my name is red is still my favourite by him thou ,all the best stu

    Posted by winstonsdad | August 3, 2011, 9:35 pm
  5. I got a copy of Snow yesterday and am really looking forward to reading him-maybe in August

    Posted by Mel u | August 7, 2011, 1:48 am
  6. This ne’s been on my shelf for ages, so glad to hear you liked it. Will have to dust it off soon 🙂

    Posted by Bina | August 10, 2011, 9:31 pm
  7. I DON’T OWN NOR HAVE I READ A COPY OF “SNOW.” MY FRIEND, WHO’S BLIND, HAS LISTENED TO THE AUDIOBOOK AND WANTS TO KNOW THE EXACT QUOTE REGARDING THE EXISTENCE OF THE POOR AS EVIDENCE THAT GOD EXISTS. CAN ANYONE HELP ME TO HELP HER?

    Posted by nancy walter | April 19, 2012, 5:40 am

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: It’s a Wrap! July 2011 « Bibliojunkie - August 1, 2011

  2. Pingback: The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk | JoV's Book Pyramid - August 8, 2015

  3. Pingback: My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk | JoV's Book Pyramid - March 3, 2017

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Mockingjay
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City


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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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