894: Snow by Orhan Pamuk

by Gerard


894.3533: Pamuk, Orhan. Snow. Translated by Maureen Freely. New York: Vintage International, 2005. 426 pp. ISBN 0-375-70686-0.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 800: Literature
  • 890: Other literatures
  • 894: Literatures of Altaic, Uralic, Hyperborean, Dravidian languages; literatures of miscellaneous languages of south Asia
  • 894.3: Turkic literatures
  • 894.35: Turkish literature
  • 894.353: Turkish fiction
  • 894.3533: Authors born between 1850 and 1999

In Orhan Pamuk’s Snow, a man comes home. As always, the context is excruciatingly important. Ka, a Turkish poet, who has lived for a while in Germany, returns to his home country to investigate a series of young suicides in the town of Kars. It’s a small town, and religious tensions run high. Ka doesn’t write much poetry any more, but the folks in Kars, when not dodging political subterfuge or looking for angles, give him more credit than he deserves for his writing. In the town of Kars lives Ipek, a woman recently separated from her political candidate husband, a woman who reminds Ka of better days, a woman who he thinks can save him and his poetry. In the dead of winter, Ka soon learns, however, just how heavy and silent the snow can be.

Pamuk’s work comes from a country scarred by centuries of religious debate. While the government still desperately clings to idea that it can be secular and separate from the fight, those who run for office or speak out against those in power do so from the perspective of their faith. Ka’s business in Kars is constantly bombarded by people with questions about his faith. Does he believe in God? Did he leave Turkey because he no longer has faith? Does he think the suicides in town are due to the head-scarf debate? All Ka really wants is an answer to a single question: Will Ipek marry him? His indifference to all else leads him on a journey into the weird Orwellian political underbelly of Turkish culture. He meets with rebel leaders and local police on equal footing so long as it gets him in Ipek’s good graces.

Snow presents itself as a gathered story. The narrator has found Ka’s journals, newspaper clippings, video tapes, and official documents and tries to piece together Ka’s story as the suicides unfold. Presumably, Ka keeps very extensive notes. The glaring exception here is that all of Ka’s poems are missing. He is even asked to recite a poem on local television, but he never gets the chance. All we get are snippets and environments, but never the finished products. In short, we keep seeing the inspirations, but never what was inspired. Even though Snow is about a foreign culture and debate, I never felt completely removed from the tale. Pamuk’s words are rich, haunting, detailed, and dripping with commentary. If I ever get a chance, I will definitely read more by him.