An illustrious Turkish author, Snow is my first Orhan Pamuk novel. Although one does get to hear so much about him, only his work can unlock a shadow of his mind. Snow is a beautiful, complex story of a poet Ka who has been in political exile in Frankfurt. He returns to Kars for his mother’s funeral for twelve years. As he reaches Kars, a terrible snowstorm prevents the denizens of the city to leave and anyone else to enter, offering the perfect setting for a grand scheme of events to play out, each one linked inextricably to the other.
A small town in Turkey, Kars means snow. With the town facing an onslaught of a snowstorm, the author unveils the scenes, showcasing the depleted remnants of the erstwhile beauty, the sad state of affairs, streets empty not just because the snow but pavements desolate and in despair, and old Russian buildings with stovepipes out of every window… such is Kars, a town left unto itself for the next three days.
Kars too grapples with division in strata and while many do not even have enough fuel to keep themselves warm or fed, others have the privilege to live a lavish lifestyle that stands out starkly in the withered environ of the town. The author explains this when the transmission to the television was not fixed, the Bey family kept seeing the white screen with black flecks. Even though it shows how they lack in infrastructure, Turgut Bey, Ipek’s father counts it as real news because it’s snowing and ‘if I watch one channel for too long, I feel robbed of my dignity.’ Being able to change channels i.e., having more than one channel, in seen as a privilege few enjoy in Kars.
The book is fiercely complicated with the main plot spinning into a number of sub plots. Ka, the poet, recites a poem titled Snow, and he envisions the intricate shape of a snowflake that inspired him to pen it down. As the story progresses, it is not just snow that marks a silent, omniscient presence in the story, but Ka weaves his life in Kars around the shape of a snowflake. He marks his ups and downs, and numerous observations in between and works on a body of work while in the town. At certain points, many aspects felt overly exaggerated, that seemed to drag for quite some bit, but on a wholesome view, the book demands attention and a grim one at that.
And the reader must understand the story layer by layer, sometimes even with one juxtaposed on the other. Such is the author’s brilliance and genius design. It takes time to get used to it, but the number of issues and concepts that have been artfully woven into each other is beyond compare. While, sometimes, it may seem a tad overbearing, especially the constant and extravagant reference to snow and its symbolism, the story offers a perspective into the lives of the Turks, their social setting and their conflicting ideologies.
Kars is a hotbed of activity. Ka meets Ipek, a student he knew before and who had captivated his heart. He stays over at her father’s hotel, while Ipek has divorced her husband. The pair witness a gruesome killing of a head of an educational insitute at a local shop by an out of town Muslim extremist, blaming him for banning head scarves in school, that may have led to a girl student committing suicide. Kars has been shaken by a number of girls committing suicide, and the city is plastered with posters exhorting girls to stop. Many characters bring in the matter of faith while discussing suicide.
“When you love someone above all others, you know everything there is to know about her. The Teslime I knew would never have committed suicide.”
This is uttered by Fazil who was in love with Teslime, but what we really see is how blind faith can be, and in that blind love. Hande, a friend of Ipek’s sister says –
“If a lot of girls in our situation are thinking about suicide, you could say it has to do with wanting to control our bodies. That’s what suicide offers girls who’ve been duped into giving up their virginity, and it’s the same for virgins who are married off to men they don’t want.”
And this gives one something to think about. With the addition of Blue, a wanted Muslim radical, who rejects Western notions, the character shows how people are falling under the spell of the West. As always, I shall leave you with my favourite quote, something that resonated a little too much with me.
“I want a God who doesn’t ask me to take off my shoes in His presence, and who doesn’t make me fall to my knees to kiss people’s hands. I want a God who understands my need for solitude.”
This post is part of the eighth annual A to Z Challenge that takes place in the month of April. The theme for this month is ‘Between Pages’. It’s my second attempt at this. Feedback is most welcome, constructive criticism, even more. Share your experiences and let’s enjoy this month of fabulous blogging.