Friday, May 6, 2011

SNOW by Orhan Pamuk

The poet Ka, after years of political exile in Germany, is back in Turkey to cover the political situation and a suicide epidemic in Kars for a German newspaper. He also wants to convince the beautiful Ipek, recently divorced, to marry him. A snowstorm has cut the impoverished town off from the rest of the world, leaving it vulnerable to a possibly violent clash between the secular government and the Islamic fundamentalists. Over the course of Ka's stay, an actor stages a couple of theatrical productions in which the bullets may be real. A newspaper reports deaths before they happen. A charismatic Islamic revolutionary named Blue is in town and may be responsible for the murder of the Institute of Education's director, an event which Ka witnessed in a café. Blue may be the lover of Ipek's almost equally beautiful sister, Kadife, the leader of the headscarf girls, who have been prohibited by the state from covering their heads at the public colleges. A lot happens in a 3-day span, but I still felt as though I were trudging through snow myself. I frequently had to reread passages because my mind started to wander. This is not an easy or fast read, and I don't think it's just because it's a translation. Reading this book requires a lot of thinking, and many of the situations, except for being snowed in, which happened here in Atlanta in January, seem so alien. Ka has walked into an intrigue-filled battleground, and the line between the good guys and the bad guys is very blurred. In fact, he could be a hero or an assassination target himself. The conflict over religion is not that foreign, either, nor are the stereotypes, such as the belief that the intelligentsia are all atheists and the fundamentalists are all poor. Ka is accused by the boys at a religious school of being an atheist, but the snow makes him think of God. In fact, he is churning out poetry all of a sudden, after a long drought, and claims that the inspiration is not coming from within. Actually, his faith, or lack thereof, seems to vary, depending on the listener. One thing we know for sure: he's not comfortable with happiness. Ipek finally agrees to accompany him back to Frankfurt, but Ka seems to do everything in his power to prevent that from happening. In fact, many of the characters are self-destructive, including Ipek, who harbors a secret, futile passion.

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