Orhan Pamuk: Snow (Review)

Some authors can write books where they reveal huge parts of the plot or the entire ending long time in advance but still manage to keep you interested and reading on. Pamuk is one of these authors. Not only does he have a way with words, he also knows how to write a story.

This entire book is told by a man looking back on three days his now deceased friend Ka spent snowed in in a small city called Kars, investigating his life afterwards in Germany and trying to figure out who killed him. This narrator is in no sense reliable as he himself is the first to point out since he can’t know everything about Ka’s experiences in Kars or about his life beforehand or afterwards.

The man spending these three days in Kars is a poet and he goes to Kars to investigate a series of suicides committed by girls who were forbidden to wear head scarves. Or – that’s the official reason. Really, he goes there to try to reclaim his youth and to try and make it with the girl of his dreams.

What he’s getting into, is so much more. While he’s there, a live theatre show is transmitted to the entire city. This is the show where soldiers start shooting the audience and in a sense takes the entire city as hostages – at least until the roads are cleared again. So much happens in these three days. In a way, Kars becomes Turkey and everything that goes on in Turkey politically, goes on in Kars in these short three days where the city is separated from the rest of the country. There’s terrorists, peace talk attempts, religious conflicts, shootings and more.

Even though you know the way it all ends for Ka, Pamuk still keeps you enthralled throughout the book. You know he is shot in Germany, you know he lives there alone and never makes it with Ipek. But still, you want to read on and find out what happens. And in the end, you don’t know a lot more about Ka since his identity is only coming through via some notebooks, stories from people he met in Kars and the few people he knew in Germany.

This book is so beautifully written. Pamuk uses the snow that surrounds the city and cut it off from the rest of the world so extraordinary. This is one of my favorite quotes about the snow: “It was as if he were in a place that the whole world had forgotten; as if it were snowing at the end of the world.” (p. 10). So beautiful.

And not only does he write so beautiful about this, he also manages to write an interesting and insightful book about religion, politics, faith and secularism and about life in Turkey. He dives into identity and the question of how well we can know each other and the author/narrator’s role: “How much can we ever know about the love and pain in another’s heart? /…/ So it is when Orhan the novelist peers into the dark corners of his poet friend’s difficult and painful life: how much can he really see?” (p. 266).

I love how Pamuk hints at the relation between fiction and real life, how he inserts himself as a character in the story and refers to both himself and a later published work (The Museum of Innocence) directly in the text – while continuing to assert that he is not an all-knowing narrator. So there’s a Orhan in the book trying to figure out what happened to his friend Ka and an Orhan writing a novel about what happened to a man named Ka. How do fiction relate to reality, what can we learn by reading a novel, can a novel change anything?

This is a political novel. Pamuk wants to show us his Turkey. Since we’re the West and therefore never can see Turkey as a Turk does – which is made even more difficult by the fact that there are more one point of view but the Turkish Government see all people living in Turkey as Turks and doesn’t recognize that some of them have other ethnicities which is a leading cause for many of the conflicts. Anyway, this is Pamuk’s attempt to show us Turkey and what’s going on in it with regard to the relations between the various groups, the inner conflicts in the country between religion, faith, political views and more.

This book really got Pamuk high up on my list of  authors to read. Not only is his language amazing, his story are so interesting and what we need to be reading to learn about the world, ourselves and each other. I have one other book by him on my shelf – The Museum of Innocence: If all his books are this good, I’ve found another favorite author.

  • Title: Snow
  • Author: Orhan Pamuk
  • Publisher: faber and faber
  • Year: 2004 (originally 2002)
  • Pages: 436 pages
  • Stars: 5 out of 5 stars
  • Pamuk was awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize in literature

NB: I read this book in 2011 – I’m just a bit late in writing the review.

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