Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Snow, the form of the flake, Turkey’s current political situation and a glimpse of history, a deep human understanding, the joy of words well used are only part of the rewards for reading the 2004 novel ‘Snow’ by Nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk’s, Turkey’s most famous writer.
He brings us to Kars – a one-and-a-half day train ride from Istanbul and an unimaginable distance from the mythological West. Pamuk is a highly original voice in world literature and from his unique vantage point he gives the reader a feel for the despair and reasoning of the Kurdish and Islamist youngsters, the ineptness of the secular state and the ruthlessness of the army, the power games and the thin line between life and death, love and lost. He constructs a beautiful bridge helping us to understand this very different culture. No, it is not a sentimental blood and honor novel, but a very intelligent eye opener, so that we might grasp the truths hidden in the daily news… The beauty of winter and a woman, love, the old heritage and the new longings, symbolized in the longing of Necip to write an Islamist sci-fi novel, this all makes me want to jump on a train… That and the insightful remarks about writing, novels and poetry stole my heart.
The story: Ka, a Turkish poet comes to Kars after a recent wave of suicides by ‘headscarf girls’, with the intention to write an article. Or Ka comes to Kars to try and find a wife, his long lost love Ipek for whom he yearned during all the years of his exile. He is caught up in the unfolding tragic events. Through the intensity of love, life and death and the incessant, surprising beauty of the snow, which keeps him locked in this town isolated from the world, poetry whispers and speaks to him again after a long period of not writing. So he writes down what the snow brings.
The person telling the story is a novelist retracing his murdered friend Ka’s steps in Kars and in Germany at the time of his death. Thus we have the all knowing authorial point of view once removed. This interesting construction of the novel allows the ‘author’ to get entangled, not to be impartial and having his own drives and motives. Snow did not help as an antidote to the triple digits heat in the desert, but it did further understanding and empathy and chased the summer times blues. Quotes:
- The landmarks that hadn’t been torn down, had lost their souls.
- One night I decided to disclose my sorrow to the sheikh, but he knew nothing of modernist poetry, René Char, the broken sentence, Mallarmé, Joubert, the silence of the empty line. --- a poem was coming to him. Although he had yet to hear the words, he knew it was already written.
- Much later when he thought about how he had written this poem, he had a vision of a snowflake. This snowflake he decided, was his life writ small; the poem that had unlocked the meaning of his life he now saw sitting at its centre.
- Rising up inside him was that sensation he had always felt as a child and as a young man at moments of extraordinary happiness: the prospect of future misery and hopelessness.
- He had a rational desire to fall madly in love, that much he knew.
- What was the difference between love and the agony of waiting?
- We’re not stupid! We’re just poor! And we have the right to insist on the distinction.
-‘Women kill themselves because they hope to gain something’ said Kadife. ‘men kill themselves because they have lost all hope of gaining anything.’ --- ‘But this is exactly why women commit suicide’, said Kadife, ‘to escape all forms of punishment.’
- and as we walked, they spoke unbidden about their lives, the emptiness of life in general, the pain of love and growing old. Neither had a hat, and when the snowflakes landed on each man’s thinning hair, they didn’t melt.

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