Snow by Orhan Pamuk

(Translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely; translation first published 2004)

Shekure in ‘My Name is Red’, Rüya in ‘The Black Book’, or Ipek in ‘Snow’, it is difficult to avoid falling in love with Orhan Pamuk’s lead female characters. So powerful they are, so enchanting their presence, and so heart-wringing their pains.

This novel is many things: In part it’s a meditation on love, despair, personal loss and atonement told in the background of a violent political upheaval, in part an exploration of the question of identity of a nation, and in part a damning critique of the perennial conflict between the West and the (Muslim) East.

A journalist-poet named Ka visits the small town of Kars in the faint hope of finding his college mate (Ipek), whom he liked during their student days and whom he had not seen for many years, under the cover of investigating a suicide epidemic among hijabi girls of the town. His motive is later revealed to be an attempt to atone for his own disappointments in life; Ka has been living a lonely life in forced exile in Germany.

No sooner he reaches the town than he’s embroiled in a violent political quagmire. As the town is cut off from the rest of the country due to heavy snow, a local military commander egged on by a disgruntled Kemalist actor launches a coup to stop Islamist parties from winning local elections. Their task is made easy when, before the coup, a secular college professor is assassinated by a furious Islamist for the crime of evicting the covered girls from the college premises.

Thus unfolds a quick-paced string of events Ka is sucked into against his wishes. The more he tries to extricate himself the more he’s embroiled in every new turn the events take. After he accidentally confesses his love to Ipek, Ka’s only wish is to marry her and convince her to come with him to Germany. But he cannot leave; Kars is cut off from the world due to snow.

The standout feature of the narrative is the voice the writer gives to the Islamist mindset, their rejection of the West (and why), and their raison d’etre for resorting to violence to achieve their aims. The high point of the debate is played out through the episode of a hijabi girl (Kadife, Ipek’s pious sister) who is forced by the coup leaders to bare her hair on-stage during the performance of a televised theatre play.

Pamuk has been criticised for portraying his female characters as fickle, volatile and unreliable. But the naysayers overlook the fact that his female characters are engaged in constant struggle for survival in unfavourable circumstances, which in turn compels them to change their opinions, positions and decisions when faced with a new, and threatening, situation. We may call it human instinct for survival depicted twice emboldened in the females. Lead female protagonist,  Ipek, as well as her sister, Kadife, both are signature examples of Pamuk’s female creations.

I will give 5 out of 5 and urge you to get your copy directly from AMAZON.

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