Book Review: Snow by Orhan Pamuk

Around The World For a Good Book selection for: Turkey

Author: Orhan Pamuk
Title: Snow
Publication Info: Vintage (2005)
ISBN: 0375706860


I found this book very challenging and it took me a long time to read it (and even longer to write about it) so this review may not do the novel justice. Snow is about an expatriate poet name Ka who returns to Turkey from Germany ostensibly to write about young Islamic women in the provincial city of Kars who are committing suicide in protest of the secular state’s rules against wearing the veil.  His ulterior motive is to reunite with Ipek, a beautiful woman he’s longed for over many years who is recently divorced.  In his time in Kars, the city is isolated by a snow storm and a military coup is staged to round up political Islamists.  Ka finds himself in the midst of much political maneuvering and finds himself inspired to write a cycle of poems ending a long dry spell.

There are flashes of humor in the book such as a newspaper publisher who writes stories before they happen (and is often correct) and the the theatricality of political movements is satirized by having an acting company stage the coup during a theater performance.  Much of this book though is fairly bleak, with a lot of emptiness, misunderstanding, intrigue, violence, and torture.  The symbol of the snow is exploited to make the reader feel trapped as well in the claustrophobic microcosm of Turkish politics and religion. People in this book never really speak or act like people would in real life but instead are often symbolic representations of particular point of view, probably one of the factors the made this a book to read slowly.

Pamuk also kicks the reader in the gut.  SPOILER ALERT: Midway through the book Ka finally realizes happiness by making love with Ipek.  The very next chapter flashes forward four years to Ka – alone and miserable – being murdered in Frankfurt.  Reading the rest of the book knowing that there’s not a shred of hope for Ka is all the more challenging. END SPOILER

I found this book an interesting means of learning about the complex nature of modern Turkey.  I appreciate Pamuk’s literary style, but I can’t say I “enjoyed” the book as much as I was unsettled by it.

Favorite Passages:

“The issue is the same for all real poets.  If you’ve been happy too long, you become banal.  By the same token, if you’ve been unhappy for a long time, you lose your poetic powers. . . .  Happiness and poetry can only coexist for the briefest time.  Afterward either happiness coarsens the poet or the poem is so true it destroys his happiness.” – p. 127


Rating: ***1/2