26 Aug / Snow by Orhan Pamuk, translated by Maureen Freely
Here are the two most important things I got out of Snow: 1. it definitely had memorable glimpses of Turkish social and cultural history that I had little to no knowledge of previously; 2. Orhan Pamuk is a clever, intelligent writer, which – given his array of hard-to-miss international accolades – I definitely had an inkling of before opening a single page.
So here’s what I didn’t experience: the highly-anticipated WOW factor in finally reading the 2006 Nobel Prize-winning author’s work. Why, oh why …
The basic story revolves around a poet named Ka, recently returned to his native Turkey from 12 years of political exile in Germany. He travels from Istanbul to a remote town, Kars, allegedly to write an investigative piece about the recent succession of suicides by young women – the “head-scarf girls” – who chose what they believed to be an honorable death rather than impiously baring their heads. In this provincial society, certainly no separation of church and state exists.
While in Kars, Ka is serendipitously reunited with a woman from his student days, the beautiful İpek, who conveniently happens to be divorced from her husband. Ka, convinced he is madly in love with İpek, is suddenly inspired by fresh creative surges that allow him to write one stunning poem after another. Amidst finding love, Ka is swayed back and forth in his religious beliefs by various residents he meets, befriends, rejects, and even betrays, who run the gamut from avowed secularist to wanted militant Muslim terrorist.
Beyond the story, the more intriguing characteristic about this novel is its format, presented in multiple layers of exposition. While Ka’s is clearly the primary point of view, the actual I-narrator is a character named Orhan who is Ka’s longtime novelist friend. Years after Ka’s death, Orhan journeys to Kars hoping to find further record of Ka’s missing poems. This Orhan happens to mention he’s working on a new novel, The Museum of Innocence, which is the title of the real-life Pamuk’s most recent novel, published in 2008 and in English translation in 2009.
At book’s end appears a provocative appendix, “The Order in Which Ka Wrote His Poems,” complete with poem title, the chapter in the novel in which the poem is mentioned, and the corresponding page number … as if the reader could – should? – continue the poetic search long after the story itself has concluded. The novel’s potential afterlife proves to be more captivating than the actual pages … long after the book is back on the shelf, Ka’s missing poems continue to resonate.
Published: 2004 (United States)