Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Author: Orhan Pamuk
Publisher: faber and faber

Ka has had enough poems published in his native Turkey that some people at least have heard of him. However that also brought him to the attention of some that he would rather than not have been acknowledged by. He got the blame for something he didn't do, and the politics of Turkey at the time were such that he felt that it made more sense to leave the country than protest his innocence. This started 12 years living as an exile in Frankfurt.

Returning to his home country for the first time in all those years he finds it changed, it is not the romantic vision he retains in his head. However when a journalist friend offers him a chance to go to a remote town he thinks that he might find what he is looking for there. The fact that the beautiful Ipek that he recalls from university lives there and is now divorced also gives him the idea that he might be able to find love at last.

However it isn't as simple as turning up in the town of Kars to have everything fall into place. Especially when the reason he is being sent there is because of a number of suicides by school girls who refused to remove their headscarves, and the resulting assassination of the town's mayor. It is snowing when Ka arrives in Kars, and the roads are quickly blocked - Ka is stuck in town on the run up to a politically charged election. Within no time at all the education minister has also been assassinated, in front of his very eyes. As though that wasn't bad enough a group of actors and military intelligence officers take advantage of the town's isolation to stage a coup.

Somehow Ka finds himself caught up in all sides. Confident to the leaders of the coup, go between for Muslim terrorists and politicians alike. Yet it also looks like there might be a future with Ipek, and he has actually started to write poetry again for the first time in four years. Unfortunately Ka doesn't believe that happiness can be attained without suffering, so he is convinced things can only end badly for all concerned.

Snow is a curious novel, narrated by the author Orhan Pamuk who talks about his friend Ka. So that at times Pamuk goes off on tangents about his feelings for Ka, about his experiences in trying to piece together Ka's time in Kars. The novel is written some years after events, and Pamuk makes a few comments about things that happened in that time which seem like they could be spoilers to a degree. Overall this gives the novel a tangential feel, the sense of being not entirely focused, which I found off-putting.

Ka is a conflicted character. Desperate for happiness he finds himself saying anything to make it through. So that as the novel develops things get increasingly out of hand for him as well as the town. The novel is full of politics - that of religion and the state's reaction to it, the issues of terrorism, of the rights of people to worship as they see fit. Through all that even the atheist Ka examines his position, has he found god in this snow bound town? Or is he just trying to fit in with those that he meets? Regardless of all the town's turmoil and the hectic events, Ka's real concern is his fatalistic pursuit of happiness.

There are moments of wonder in Snow. Moments where the sentiment, the character, the events stops the reader, forces a savouring of the words like the poetry that Ka is so excited to be writing. Though this is balanced out by the tangential nature of the narration, so that in the end Snow is something of a mixed bag, and one that I found that I took longer to complete than I really should.

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