Zinta's Reviews > Snow

Snow by Orhan Pamuk
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Jan 05, 2009

really liked it
Read in December, 2007

I read a few sample pages of Snow in the bookstore, drawn by its blurry, snowy cover; drawn by a recent New York Times review; drawn by its non-westernized roots in Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk; drawn, too, by curiosity at this recent Nobel Prize winner for literature. The first few pages mesmerized me, the scene of a Turkish poet riding a bus through the snow capturing my imagination even as I left the bookstore.

"The silence of snow, thought the man sitting just behind the bus driver. If this were the beginning of a poem, he would have called the thing he felt inside him the silence of snow..."

Snow never stops falling throughout this lengthy novel, and indeed becomes a barometer of the human condition. "Snow" is also the title of a poetry collection the Turkish poet, Ka, writes over its time span. A diagram of a snowflake is his diagram of his core self, with branches into imagination, reason and memory. As snow gathers over the events of the story, it becomes at times a blizzard, at other times a gentle white blanketing over a trampled earth.

Ka is traveling to the city of Kars to write an article about an epidemic of suicides among young Turkish women. As the force of westernization has entered the predominantly Muslim city, these young women have been "freed" to discard their head scarves. Their religious beliefs, however, are such that to bare their heads in public is more than they can bear--they would rather die. While investigating the suicides, Ka meets recently divorced Ipek, and he is instantly enthralled. The ensuing story is as much one of political rebellion as it is love story, complete with executions, betrayals, love found and love lost, and mysteries never quite solved.

I've grown up on European literature, with its dense and intricate plotlines, stories with no particular rush to reach conclusion and no linear path in getting there, in contrast to the fast-paced western literature with spare plotlines, quick action, and neatly wrapped-up endings. Of course, there are exceptions, but when I am in the mood to sink deep into a multi-layered tome, I choose non-western literature, and when I want a quick tap-dance of literary skill, I choose American literature. Each has its own pleasures. Snow is no exception. I enjoyed this blizzard, even if at times I lost sight of the path for all the white stuff.

Even the love story reminded me of the difference in the expression of love in different cultures, with Ka's falling into something nearing a worshipful obsession, immersing himself whole into the object of his affection--while a westernized love story would be more geared toward seduction and conquest, less about the dance of courtship and romance. There is surrender to the heart with nothing left in reserve in non-western literature that fascinates me. Do or die. Love or leave. For this reason alone, I enjoy reading literature by a variety of international authors; each provides a view into a varied perspective and life sense.

In any culture, however, the human heart breaks for the same reasons. We read of Ka's devastation at learning his beloved has betrayed him with another--from this heartbreak is seeded a suspicion of murder (did Ka or didn't he?). The scene of confrontation between Ka and Ipek is perhaps the novel's most moving: hearts are shattered even as they continue to find comfort in each other's arms, a fatal mix of love threaded with hatred, and finally released by the chill of apathy. Pamuk writes of the complexities of love as far more baffling than reason alone might explain, and each time as unique as a snowflake.

Snow is not a quick read. Nor is it an easy one. Like Ka's love, it requires immersion and a certain degree of surrender. It is a skilled and often marvelous novel, even if I am not convinced it is worthy of the Nobel. I would say not. Yet it is worth the effort to move through this snowfall, if only for the occasional moment of sheer literary mastery.
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03/03/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Kathy (new) - added it

Kathy so true!


message 2: by Alex (new) - added it

Alex I like your review very much. I picked up the novel in a Goodwill bookstore, read a few pages and was entranced. The 'snow" reminded me of "The Dead," but it was the immersion in another culture that really held me. I'm only into it a couple of chapters, but I've put other books aside.


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