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SNOW by Orhan Pamuk

SNOW

by Orhan Pamuk, translated by Maureen Freely

Pub Date: Aug. 22nd, 2004
ISBN: 0-375-40697-2
Publisher: Knopf

Internationally acclaimed Turkish writer Pamuk (My Name is Red, 2001, etc) vividly embodies and painstakingly explores the collision of Western values with Islamic fundamentalism.

An omniscient narrator, identified only on the penultimate page, tells the story of Kerim Alakusoglu, a 40-ish poet known as Ka who returns to Turkey from political exile in Germany. Ka travels to the remote provincial town of Kars in “the poorest, most overlooked corner of Turkey” near the Armenian border, where a seemingly endless snowfall persists, a rash of recent suicides by young women stirs political and ethnic debate—and Kee is reunited with his beautiful former schoolmate Ipek, now estranged from her husband. Pamuk distributes conflicting commitments to Muslim traditions and secular, Westernized concepts in such compellingly realized characters as Ipek’s “radical” sister and sometime actress Kadife, her “terrorist” lover Blue, Ipek’s unctuous husband Mukhtar (a mayoral candidate in Kars’s upcoming municipal elections), brutal military police official Z. Demirkol, and National Theatre luminary Sunay Zaim, who appears to be staging his own martyrdom in an adaptation of Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy that will feature Kadife’s onstage protest against Islam’s suppression of women’s rights. This richly detailed tale is in effect a dialectic made flesh by a thrilling plot ingeniously shaped to climax with the aforementioned theatrical production and to coincide with the narrator’s revelations of Ka’s last hours in Kars, which ironically consummate the flurry of poetic creativity released in him by his experiences there. The novel’s meanings inhere memorably in the controlling title metaphor, which signifies cleansing, silence, sleep, obliteration, “the beauty and mystery of creation,” and the organizing principles for Ka’s late poems, the last of which he entitles “The Place Where the World Ends.”

An astonishingly complex, disturbing view of a world we owe it to ourselves to better understand.