satyamnotes
The blog of Satyam Roychowdhury
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17Dec
Reading List

Snow
Orhan Pamuk

This is a book that makes you feel cold to your bones, true to its title.

The story unfolds slowly, layer by layer. After several years in political exile in Frankfurt, Ka returns to Istanbul to attend his mother's funeral. He is then commissioned by a newspaper in Istanbul to write an article about the municipal elections in Kars, and investigate a succession of suicides by women and girls in the city. As a journalist, Ka interviews the families of the girls trudging through the snow. He learns that they were committing suicide because of pressure by the college authorities to take off their headscarves in class. Ka falls in love with his schoolmate Ipek who is separated from her husband.

The city is cut off from the world and also from normal literary reality by three days of incessant snow. Snow deals with the conflict between a secular state and Islamic government, poverty, unemployment, the veil, the role of a modernising army, and suicide. Initially the narrator seems omniscient and external, but is soon revealed to be a friend — a novelist called Orhan — who is reconstructing Ka's life after his death several years later. At first we know hardly anything about him, but he becomes increasingly involved — visiting Ka's digs in Frankfurt, reading his notebooks and trying to find his poems, and even visiting Kars himself and talking to the people Ka met there.

Through its broad range of characters it explores a huge range of political, religious, and social issues. It is a character study, a portrait of obsession and jealousy. And, through its narrative structure and formal links between Ka's poetry and the events around him, it probes the relationship between art and life. Pamuk holds all this together, but sometimes only with a visible effort. Snow is a highly recommended read nevertheless.

The story has narrative layers, and Pamuk’s artistry is incredible. It is an intense read that keeps the reader captivated till the end.