Orhan Pamuk may be a lesser known author in the United States, but this Turkish Nobel Prize winning novelist deserves a wider audience. We found great enjoyment and learned much about the nation and people of Turkey by reading Pamuk’s most well-known novel, Snow.
In his opening essay, Benjamin pointed out two important themes. The first was, obviously, snow. Throughout the book the quiet, beautiful snow seems to speak to the main character, Ka, about God, and is itself a character. It is snow that has closed all roads in and out of the little town of Kars creating an isolated area where a localized military coup can take place without the knowledge or interference of state forces in Ankara. The snow binds everyone to Kars, but also bind everyone together
Another theme is happiness. Ka is on a quest to find it in a relationship with Ipek through which he hopes to bring her with her to his exiled home in Frankfurt. This, he believes, would bring the greatest happiness imaginable to his life. Sadly it was never to be, although they came close.
We discussed the duality of the Turkish people as portrayed in the book, that they seem to want to be a western, secular state and to be religious at the same time. Even those who represent one or the other interest betray the influence of the other side. The debate over whether women can/should/must wear head coverings is sometimes cast as a matter of western freedom of expression while simultaneously being a symbol of (among other things) female submission in Islam. In Turkey though the two sides (western and Islamic) hate each other, they cannot live without each other. They are indivisible as part of the Turkish identity.
Another interesting observation about the book was the number of stories within the story. Some examples include Necip’s science fiction (p. 114 in the Everyman edition), Blue’s story of father and son on the battlefield (p. 87), the play titled My Fatherland or My Headscarf (p. 157), the story of the Poison Investigation (p. 220). There was also the story of Teslime’s suicide, and Ka’s dream of walking between two high walls.
As mentioned, beyond the great enjoyment of the story, we all felt we had moved a little bit closer to understanding the middle eastern mind, at least the Turkish part of it. And we are glad to extend our reach outside of the canon of western, English books to include this translation of a great Turkish novel.