Snow by Orhan Pamuk


Here is the first conundrum:  Snow is pure but not innocent, and it covers dirt, mud and darkness. Already one can judge that this book will be ironic. But how ironic though is a matter for disputation, but my notion is that its very foundation is ironic, as it contends with what is means to be an artist in a political society, with how one can live in a conflicted society. The plot revolves on coup- a coup which is variously called a military coup and a theatrical coup. In fact, it is a coup by theatrical group which is interestingly supported by the military. Politics and art could hardly be more intertwined.

Snow is not an easy read, even though it’s my third Orhan Pamuk, and only the second one which I liked it and finished on time. Loved his book Museum of Innocence but could not, as hard I tried to like was My name is Red.

The story is told simultaneously from two different angle: one from the main protagonist, a poet name Ka, and the wider political environment of the cultural change in Turkey following the rise of Ataturk.  However, one need to be historian to read this book initially, the work focuses on the life of the protagonist and does not dwell much on historical or political context. Anyone who loves to read a beautiful yet gripping story will definitely enjoy this book- the setting of dramatic cultural alteration in Turkey in only the brownie point for those who happens to interested in it. And of course history is the central to the plot, but all explained beautifully.

The main story covers three days of Ka’s life, A Turkish poet who recently returned from Germany after 12 year of exile, comes to Kars (Far East of Turkey) apparently to write about “head scarf girls”- a group of school girls who are rebelling against Ataturk’s westernizing policies, to continue the tradition of wearing head coverings (hijab).  However, Ka also have another purpose: to win the love of Ipek, the girl from his childhood with whom he hopes to get married and take her to Germany.  Ipek whose younger sister, coincidently is the leader of the head scarf girls. As said the story covers in three days, a blizzard descends on Kars and no one can get in or out. Violence accelerates in the small town as the head scarf drama unfolds and multiple religious and secular group’s clashes.  Personally, I believe that this by no measure reads like a thriller or action; instead, it is a distressing account of Ka’s few days in Kars. Poems he writes, his relationship with Ipek and his reluctant role in violence which begins to unfold. Without telling much it can be said that this is a tragic story. The character of Ka is not perfect: he is flawed human being like others that makes him more compelling. Ka’s time in Kars revolves around the poems he writes in the city, which flow easily from his pen than they have in many years. These poems represent different aspects of his conscience (imagination, memory, reason) but ultimately leads to little conclusions in terms of self-discovery.

The book is interesting, stylistically and structurally. Snow is a third person story about Ka but have been told by a first person narrator, the novelist himself- Orhan Pamuk. This metafictional narrative technique, by adding another layer to the “conversation”, rather deepens the “artist in society” and art/politics themes of the book. All this said, the novel is complex, challenging to grasp: there are a lot of characters, comings and goings, and ideas to track. Just why Ka is the way he is, what happen to him in the end, and just what Pamuk is saying about politics and art are hard to pin down. Loved the way the book is underpinned by sarcasm and paradox- and yet many times the meaning can be little complex to perceive.

Snow is not a light and fun read, but it is a delightful piece of literature.


Rating: 4.5/5





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