305 of 330 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "No one who is even slightly westernized can breathe free."
The rich story-telling tradition of the Middle East enlivens Turkish author Pamuk's novel about the residents of Kars, a town in the remote northeast corner of Turkey, once a crossroads for trade between Turkey, Soviet Georgia, Armenia, and Iran, but now a place of enormous poverty. Ka, a poet with writer's block, arrives in Kars at the beginning of a three-day blizzard,...
Published on August 22, 2004 by Mary Whipple
210 of 235 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I challenge you to stay awake.
Reviewers of Orhan Pamuk seem to fall into two categories: those who find his work breathtakingly brilliant; and those who find it distant, overly-intellectualized, and downright dull. As much as I'd like to belong in the first category, there's no denying I'm smack-dab in the second. This, despite the fact that I consider myself a patient reader and have long been...
Published on November 11, 2004 by Charles
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305 of 330 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "No one who is even slightly westernized can breathe free.",
All the conflicting political and religious movements of the country are exemplified in Kars--socialism and communism, atheism, political secularism, Kurdish nationalism, and the most rapidly growing movement, Islamist fundamentalism, and Ka comes into contact with all of them. As he investigates the girls' suicides and becomes reacquainted with Ipek, he also witnesses the coffeeshop shooting of the Director of Education, the man who has carried out the government's orders to ban the "headscarf girls" from school. His assailant is a young member of the Freedom Fighters for Islamic Justice, a group Ka comes to know. A military coup at the National Theater begins when soldiers burst in, shoot randomly into the audience, kill a number of people, then round up "dangerous" citizens, including some of the people Ka has visited. Ultimately, Ka's life is in danger, and Ipek must choose whether to go with him to Germany or to stay in Kars.
Articulate in its depiction of almost inexplicable contradictions, Snow is not a western novel and does not adhere to western literary conventions of plot or character. The execution of the Director of Education, the army coup, and the follow-up are used primarily as vehicles for exploring the many competing philosophical and political movements, a focus on abstractions rarely seen in American literary fiction. The plot is absorbing for a reader who is interested in politics and religion, but the novel may be slow for readers looking for a plot- or character-based novel. The characters, while intriguing, are more representative of types than individuals.
Published in Turkey and Europe before September 11, the novel has an ominous prescience to it. Rich with insights into rapidly rising fundamentalist movements and why they seek our destruction, this haunting novel is many-leveled, beautifully wrought, and complex. Packed with ironies, dark humor, and enough symbolism to keep a symbol-hunter busy for days, this realistic depiction of the environment in which extremist movements take root and flourish is a chilling reminder of how the world has changed. Mary Whipple
210 of 235 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I challenge you to stay awake.,
The book's central character is a poet named Ka. Its setting is the Turkish frontier town of Kars. What falls throughout the book is snow, which, translated in Turkish, is "kar." Hmm. Let this be your first warning that you are deep in the throes of post-modernist art.
The plot of "Snow" is drawn straight from headlines in Turkey today. Religious young women, pressured by the State to take off their headscarves, are committing suicide. While Pamuk has plenty of value to say about this and other issues which define modern day Turkey -- on the crossroads of East and West -- the problem is how he goes about saying it:
'Does your father have to be out of the hotel for you to get into bed with me naked?' asked Ka.
'Yes. And he hardly ever leaves the hotel. He doesn't care for the icy streets of Kars.'
'All right then, let's not make love now. But let's kiss some more,' said Ka.
Ipek leaned over Ka, who was sitting on the edge of the bed, and they enjoyed a long and sensual kiss.
Hmm. Maybe it's not fair to blame Pamuk since his prose must first be dragged through the filter of translation. Is it really possible to create elegant English from Turkish -- a language rich in suffixes but dirt-poor in vocabulary, with paragraph-length sentences that run, from the western perspective, precisely in the wrong direction?
Perhaps not. But so what? "Snow" is boring. It's boring in the same way that "The White Castle" was boring, and in the same way that "The New Life" was boring (and incomprehensible!). And there's just no excuse for boring. Great novels inform -- but great novels also entertain.
This is not a great novel. Once again, Pamuk gives the reader a blizzard of ideas, accumulating to remarkable depth. But reader beware -- this just makes for a long, cold slog.
Note: No need to struggle with Pamuk's high art to get a fictional taste of Turkey. Try "Savarona" by J. Patrick Hart, "Blood Tie" by Mary Lee Settle, and the vintage "Towers of Trebizond" by Rose MacAuley.
174 of 199 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars " . . . a terrorist is first of all a human being. . .",
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Whether you are new to the writings of Orhan Pamuk or like me, a convert to his work in translation, you will find the book, "Snow," is packed, nay; overflowing with Turkish humanity. In Orhan Pamuk's self-avowed first (and last) political novel, the disaffected and somewhat anesthesitized inhabitants of Kars find their imperfect voice in his newest novel. Through mad-cap theatrical coup and broad, windy statements to an imagined and unhearing "Western Press," the reader is ingeniously treated and sometimes led by the nose through the complexity of an Islamic society desiring access to its past and admittance to the modern world.
Therein lies the rub.
Understanding is everything, although it can't immediately change anything. The readers of "Snow" will find many intricately drawn zany characters, who represent a spectrum of political fundamentalist Islam; adherents, admirers and detractors. All are deliciously served up on an exotic Turkish platter and are no less appealing for the remote locale of Kars.
As a reader, I am consistently amazed by Mr. Pamuk's stellar ability to give authentic, credible voice to a wide array of eccentric characters, each effortlessly recognizable for all their foible. There is also a remarkable, transcendent levity to Pamuk's depiction of what are deeply tragic events; a rather mystical take on the "ship of fools" theory of life. When a young fundamentalist student in the book expresses his desire to become the "first Islamic science fiction writer" it is a wistful, encouraging and poignant statement. The people of Kars do not by any means lack for voice. What they lack is a stable political vehicle that allows the coherent telling of their tale.
The varying degree of political involvement portrayed in the aloof dreaminess of love-sick Ka, ex-leftist, poet and main character; the complex hyperbole of Blue, fundamentalist outlaw, and Kadife, a forthright "westernized" girl from Istanbul converted to head-scarf activism represent the voices we don't usually hear behind the sad ubiquity of exploding bombs.
There are plenty of Pamukian literary devices in this novel that address the author's recurring themes and symbols. These have to do with questions of identity and metaphysics. Some note has been made in reviews here (USA) pondering the possible meaning(s) of Ka's name. I am told the author was influenced by Kafka. If readers of "Snow," desire a clue to the meaning or significance of the town's name, ("Kars") see the ending pages of "The New Life (also highly recommended)."
Every author has his own retinue of literary device and Mr. Pamuk continues to employ his own abundantly. The symbol of snow (in Turkish, "kar") is both tender metaphor and unifying symbol. Snowfall covers everything in the novel (and everyone) indiscriminately, possessing the miraculous nature of each snowflake's distinct design. Distinct design also aptly describes the Kars citizenry.
As I was finishing this valuable, well-written book, an Islamic faction in Iraq was holding two French journalists hostage, demanding that France lift its ban on the wearing of head-scarves by Muslim girls in French public schools. The underlying controversy of the book? A ban on head scarves in Turkish public schools by the state officials of Kars, resulting in a wave of suicides by young girls. Or was that the actual reason? Decide for yourself, by reading "Snow". One of the great fortuitous compliments I imagine an author receives (to his probable chagrin) is life attempting an awkward imitation of his art. (Mr. Pamuk began this book before 9/11).
Understanding is everything, even when it changes nothing. Perhaps it is all we, at times, can do.
43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars there are better Turkish novelists,Memed, My HawkThe Wind from the Plain (Wind from the Plain Trilogy). Even by the political criteria that often seem to be more important to the Nobel Committee than literary criteria, Kemal trumps Pamuk: instead of merely talking about historically oppressed peoples like the Kurds and Armenians, Kemal is himself a Kurd, and rather than merely having had charges brought against him as a political dissident, Kemal has actually been to prison. But much more importantly, Kemal is a much finer writer.
So what about the book itself? It has numerous flaws, ranging from the inclusion of the very unconvincing love story of the protagonist to the credibility-straining relationship between Blue and Kadife (as if Muslim fundamentalists would engage in the decadent Western practice of taking - or, even more incredibly, consenting to become - a mistress). Moreover, the problems with the language that some reviewers refer to are not the translator's fault. Pamuk's Turkish prose is anything but elegant. While my Turkish is admittedly at the beginner-to-intermediate level at best, when I tortured myself by reading the first few pages of Pamuk's book "Istanbul" in the original, showing particularly confusing passages to my Turkish wife, she confirmed my suspicion that his sentences are often convoluted. There are authors, like William Faulkner, who are able to manage long and complicated sentences well. Orhan Pamuk is not one of them.
What is good about this book? One reviewer criticized the surrealism of the book, but in fact Pamuk's ability to capture the surrealism of Turkish political life is one of the book's strengths. In Turkey today one increasingly hears talk about the possibility of a civil war breaking out between Muslims and secularists, and the bizarre "coup" portrayed in this novel, carried out by an exceedingly odd coalition of washed-up leftist actors, local military and police officials, and some shady nationalist figures living as mercenaries fighting Kurdish nationalist guerrillas, seems plausible enough to someone familiar with the Turkish political situation. (The surreal quality of public life in developing countries is perhaps captured best in books such as "The Emperor"Emperor and "Shah of Shahs"Shah of Shahs by the Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski.) While it may be difficult for readers unfamiliar with Turkish political history and culture to appreciate Pamuk's satirical treatment of Kemalist art, Turkey's own brand of socialist realism, this is also well done. But what I found most impressive and important about this book was the collection of very convincing and insightful psychological portraits of a variety of religious Muslims in Kars contained in the first third of the book. Pamuk shows a broad range of motivations (ranging from sincere spirituality to youthful confusion and longing for meaning in life to rebellion against secularist social conventions) as well as an equally broad range of types of Islam (from a warm, Sufi inwardness to an intolerant political ideology). Moreover, even the most fanatical Muslims are portrayed as complex personalities with interesting psychologies; the book successfully avoids black-and-white stereotyping. Given the problems with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in today's world, this alone is enough to make at least this part of the book worth reading.
43 of 48 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Frigid,
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing, Frustrating, Almost Quite Good,
I won't belabor the plot here or offer my review. The book should be read by anyone interested in the rise of fundamentalist Islam in the region. My travels through Macedonia revealed a similar, and very serious, rise of fundamentalist Islamic movements, so it **felt** quite real. (Therein lies my main criticism: too often it was hard for me not to feel that Pamuk was pushing this idea across, rather than building a literary work.)
However, I want to mention two points of concern for me regarding SNOW. The first is that we are in danger of treating Pamuk as THE Turkish voice, much as the Cold War years gave birth to several (but not more than that!) "voices" and "souls" of their respective nations. Pamuk is but one voice, who in fact no longer lives in Turkey. His is but one voice of many; an important one, to be sure, but certainly not THE voice or soul of Turkey. We shouldn't lift him on a national pedestal, as we did so many Eastern European intellectuals during the Cold War. I mean, is it truly possible to speak for an entire nation? Would we want to read a writer who actually could? Would we want to visit a country that could be represented by a single writer? Turkey's far too complex a society for one writer to encompass.
Which leads me to a related point: Maragaret Atwood's blurb on the cover of the paperback edition. Does anyone else find Atwood's statement that Pamuk is "narrating his country into being" offensive? I mean, the last time I looked, much of Turkey was a few hundred years, if not a millenia or two, older than Atwood and Pamuk combined. True, as a nation Turkey is young. But my god -- "narrating his country into being"???? What does that mean? I hope Vintage has the good sense to erase that bit of Western intellectual snobbery and myopia from future editions.
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Talking heads,
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ka in kar in Kars: A Russian doll of a Turkish novel,
"Snow" is constructed like several colorfully painted matryoshkas: a novelist writing about a poet posing as a journalist; Ka is trapped by "kar" (snow) during his visit to Kars. The townsfolk both welcome Ka as a dignitary of sorts and mistrust him as too "Westernized," because he has spent the previous twelve years as an exile in Germany. Their mistrust is not entirely misplaced, since the motives for Ka's visit are not purely professional: he hopes to rekindle a relationship with the lovely Ipek, whom he had known as a student.
The "plot" of any political satire can be difficult to summarize, and "Snow" is especially labyrinthine. Ka's assignment is to write about the (exaggerated) reports of girls who have been committing suicide rather than remove their headscarves in school, as proscribed by law. As the story progresses and the town's secrets are unveiled, Ka manages to be in the presence of a series of unfortunate events (and these are just in the first few chapters): Ka witnesses the assassination of the director of the institute that had enforced the headscarf laws; Ka and Ipek's former husband are both arrested and the latter is brutally treated the secularist regime; Ka meets Blue, an Islamist fugitive and alleged terrorist; and Ka reads a poem at a theatrical production that turns violent when the local army guns down religious students who jeer the play's secularist message.
Although complex in its themes and occasionally nonlinear in its plot, "Snow" is surprisingly readable--and this is in large part because of its acid wit. Using equal doses of exaggeration and derision, Pamuk mocks Turkish political divisions: the Ataturk-inspired secularists, who fear that Turkey may become another Iran; the Islamists, who view as evil anything tainted with secular or Western influences; and the Kurdish nationalists, whose own agenda is almost comically ignored by the other two factions. There are also representatives of other groups, both enfeebled and entrenched: Armenians, Communists, the media, the police, and government bureaucrats.
It's a testament to Pamuk's skills as a political commentator and storyteller that he mocks his own confusion (as narrator), as well as his protagonist's fair-weather philosophical beliefs. And, while he lampoons the conflicts between the various factions, Pamuk struggles to lend a sympathetic ear to their complaints and arguments and to the idea that political and religious tenets, although easy to scorn, are not always easy to comprehend. He sagely warns that societies are not well represented by fiction: readers believe what they read in a novel "if only to see themselves as wise and superior and humanistic." Instead, the author suggests, readers should "keep a little room for doubt in their minds."
31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars better in theory than execution, translation doesn't help,
The plot follows Ka, an exiled Turkish poet returned for his mother's funeral. He decides to go to the city of Kars, ostensibly to report on the local election and the wave of young girl suicides, but actually to catch up again with an old love, now separated from her husband. A blizzard isolates the town and Ka quickly becomes embroiled in the politics of religion or the religion of politics, interacting with a cast that includes Kurdish separatists, Islamic fundamentalists, leftists, ex-communists, socialists, secularists, militarists, etc. Adding to the complexity are the love story with Ipek, his reacquaintance with God, and his newfound ability to create poetry once again.
The love story, as mentioned, is particularly weak. The politics are interesting on the surface, as is Turkey's identity crisis (European or not?), but it is presented in such distanced, abstract fashion, is portrayed via such two-dimensional characters, that one doesn't really feel it. One recognized there should be empathy here, sympathy there, anger at this, sorrow at that, but the emotional response just isn't there. The same is true with Ka's own crises, whether they be emotional, political, religious, or creative.
There is a great idea here and a wealth of material. There is room for passion and motivation and empathy, introspection and retrospection. And I kept waiting for it to happen. But it never did for me. Once I was about a third of the way in I had to force myself farther and finished it more because I thought the subject was important than because the story or the characters or the style pulled me along. Sadly but honestly, I can't say I found it worth the effort.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understanding Turkey's Soul: "Snow" by Orhan Pamuk,
"You will really appreciate this author's work."
Thus was I introduced to the writings of Orhan Pamuk. In the midst of my reading "Snow," I was carrying it with me in downtown Boston. A passerby saw the book and remarked:
"You are reading a book about my country. In Turkey, Orhan Pamuk is regarded as one of our finest writers. He has written many works in Turkish; this is one of his few works written in English."
John Updike, who knows a thing or two about good writing, had this to say about "Snow" and Pamuk:
"A major work . . . conscience-ridden and carefully wrought, tonic in its scope, candor and humor . . . with suspense at every dimpled vortex . . . Pamuk [is Turkey's] most likely candidate for the Nobel Prize."
This political novel is set in rural Turkey, yet transcends its geographic setting to shine rays of poetic insight into universal human emotions and experiences. The protagonist, Ka, is a poet, an ex-patriot Turk who has been living in Germany and returns to his homeland to investigate the mysterious suicide of several young men in the Turkish backwater town of Kars. While in Germany, Ka's poetry muse had deserted him, but amidst the perpetual snowstorm that blanketed Kars during his stay there, poems once again came to him - seeming to crystalize in his mind like the unique snowflakes that enveloped him and his surroundings. Once back in Germany, Ka organized his new poems according to the hexagonal structure of a snowflake - a taxonomy that arranged the poems along axes that he called "Reason," "Memory" and "Imagination."
I found Pamuk's syle quiet and subtle. I see many similarities between "The Kite Runner," and "Snow." For me, as a reader educated primarily on the canon of The West, reading the more interior-focused works of writers from Asia is an acquired taste, but one well worth acquiring. An analogy hit me the other day as I was grabbing a bite to eat at the Jaffa Cafe on Gloucester Street in Boston's Back Bay. I ordered a plate of falafel, hummus and baba ghanoush - and enjoyed it immensely. It was only after I had placed my order that I saw that this item on the menu was listed as a "vegetarian's delight." I am a classic carnivore (actually, a card-carrying omnivore!), and love my red meat, so it stunned me to know I had ordered and enjoyed a "vegetarian" meal. The tastiness of the ingredients had allowed me to transcend labels and expand the horizons of my tastebuds. Works like "Kite Runner" from Afghanistan and "Snow" from Turkey have accomplished the same broadening effect on my literary tastes.
A recurring theme in "Snow" is the national inferiority complex with which many Turks wrestle - at home and in exile - as they live with the shameful legacy of the Armenian Massacre that lies as an unhealed and oozing national wound just beneath the surface of daily life. A parallel source of struggle, shame and strife is the role of women and girls in society - a very visible symbol of the question of the degree to which Western values will determine the future of Turkey and other developing nations in the Middle East and Asia.
"Did they pity you? Did their hearts go out to you because you were a miserable Turk, a lonely destitute political exile, the sort of Turkish nobody that drunken German youths beat up just for the fun of it?" (Page 231)
As the narrative unfolds, these national issues are personified in the characters whose lives swirl like eddying curtains of snowflakes drifting to earth. Ka is briefly reunited with the beautiful Ipek, who vacillates between being accessible and inaccessible to Ka. Ipek's sister, Kadife, plays out on a literal stage the struggle that many women of her generation find so difficult - the choice between tradition and conformity on the one hand and individuality and rebellion on the other hand.
Pamuk does a remarkable job of blending and balancing political commentary, artistic insight and interpersonal intrigue in this moving tale. I agree with the assessment of Margaret Atwood, writing about "Snow" in the New York Times Book Review:
"Not only an engrossing feat of tale-spinning, but essential reading for our times. [Pamuk is] narrating his country into being."
I plan to read other Orhan Pamuk titles and am pleased to recommend this work to discriminating readers.
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Snow (Vintage International) by Orhan Pamuk