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[87] Snow – Orhan Pamuk

snow.jpgA writer comes to the Turkish quaint town of Kars to trace his friend’s footsteps during a three-day visit, which coincides with a military coup undertaken by an angry, pent-up actor. The anonymous narrator’s friend, Ka, is an exiled poet who returns after 12 years in Germany to report on a wave of contagious suicides among religious girls forbidden to wear their head scarves. What appear to Ka as happy girls terminating their lives of misery and poverty in the desolate town is actually the cause of violent political and religious intrigues that culminates into a militant coup. The battle between Turkish nationalists and political Islamists over sovereignty erupts at the outburst of these suicides.

The Islamists proclaim the state godless in banning scarf-wearing girls from the classroom, when all they are doing is obeying the laws of their religion. They assert that the timely assassination of the director of education institution, who is no more than a pawn to denigrate innocent Muslims and their religion, is a state plot that uses him to enforce the cruel measure and pin the blame to the Islamists. Caught in the rift is Ka, who is drawn by memories of Ipek and regains the gift of writing poetry. Taking roles on both sides not only puts his life at risk but also confronts his being an atheist. This atheism spawns the question of God’s existence and how suicide is considered a sin and blasphemy.

Among suspicion, Ka becomes entangled with a charismatic terrorist and an insurgent who will eventually stage a play that leads to massacre. Like the people in Kars, the poet realizes a moderate belief in God will be insufficient to save the skin of an atheist, nor would a belief out of fear do any good. But he still prefers to cultivate a bondage with God, if God does exist, on his own over joining a mosque. Snow unrelentingly nails the fact that a solitary westernized individual whose private faith in God is unacceptable and can be threatening to an organized religion, which Ka thinks has robbed people of freedom of choice, thinking, and artistic expression. That Pamuk has chosen a poet as the hro is a big slap on the face of religion.

Merging art and life into a historical tale of love and poignancy that satirizes the absurdity of a white terror (evocative of Jose Saramago’s Blindness), which shuts off people’s senses, Snow has achieved more than narrating the country into being. Pamuk’s finger points to the rest of the world in the present tense. When the actor gets fed up by the oppression, and when the women decide to bare their heads, they are making a statement of revulsion, a statement of intolerance  to a life so fake that only suits the purpose of a religious faith and a political regime. The tragedy is not so much the escalating violence as the luckless people who would allow themselves to be swept into the asinine political feuds of the society, when all that matters in life are happiness, remaining true to self, and breaking free from any man-made standards.

11 Responses

  1. Would you recommend this work for a bookgroup?
    Or is it better savored alone?

  2. You write some lovely reviews. I received copies of “Snow” and “Istanbul” for my birthday this year and can’t wait to start on them.

  3. Isabel:
    Does your bookgroup meet once a month? If so, I would recommend the book because it takes some time to get into the story. It’s a social commentary coated with a literary flair. 🙂

    Lotus Reads:
    What a lovely nickname. I also have Istanbul down for the armchair traveler reading challenge in the book blogging community. I also want to read My Name is Red, which I believe is one of his first novels. And thank you for your kind words. 🙂

  4. I found it really hard going…. although a friend says that I should have persisted! I think it’s a book you need to be in the mood for, as well as have time to read great chunks at a go.. it’s not well savoured in small doses.

  5. I second sechanges. It is in fact a bit difficult for me. I know I don’t read enough of a chunk in between reading in order to make sense of it.

  6. seachanges:
    Yes you’ll have to set aside a block of time to read this one. A bit of political background also helps.

    John:
    It took me 11 days to finish it–exactly the same amount of time to finish The Brothers Karamazov, except that Snow is about half the size!

  7. This is slow-going for me. I’m saving it when I have a full weekend to read it and understand the political background.

  8. Hi! I would just like to ask a question. What are the themes or motifs of this novel?

    thanks!

    • snow, the dog which might actually have something to do with Ka himself, the teahouses, the grand armenian buildings, love, jealousy

  9. […] not name an Israeli/Arab/Turk/Persian writer, if you’re feeling lucky? Snow by Orhan Pamuk back in 2007. Pamuk is the recipient of numerous literary awards, including the […]

  10. […] not name an Israeli/Arab/Turk/Persian writer, if you’re feeling lucky? Snow by Orhan Pamuk back in 2007. Pamuk is the recipient of numerous literary awards, including the […]

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