Snow by Orhan Pamuk, Running Commentary

*I’m sure this is a first for me; I’ve never read a novel translated from the Turkish before. In fact, I can’t even name a Turkish novel or a Turkish poet or writer. Can you?

* (p. 4) The beginning is a little disconcerting. We have a narrator (I) who calls himself a long-time firiend of Ka, the seeming main character. Who is this narrator? The author? How does he come to write such a story in which he tells us the thoughts of Ka the poet-protagonist?

*(p. 30) Head-scarves: Are they a symbol of subjection and slavery, or of rebellion and Islamic faith and fundamentalism? Eldest Daughter and I discussed the head covering controversy as it was publicized in France last year. The French see wearing head-scarves as a statement about being different, being non-French, whereas to me, as an American, it seems to be an issue of religious liberty. If Muslim girls want to wear head-coverings, why shouldn’t they be allowed to do so? I guess the question is whether or not they really want to wear the head coverings, or whether they’re being forced to do so. In Snow the girls want to wear head coverings, and the government and their parents and the schools are opposed to the practice.

*(p. 87) This book reads like a Russian novel, Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy. It has the deep foreboding atmosphere, the introspection and fascination with philosophy and religion, the seemingly irrelevant details that combine to create a memorable setting. If the conflict in the novel is between East and West, I think the East is the victor, at least in terms of writing style. Turkey itself is caught between East and West, I suppose. But I never thought of Turkey’s being caught between Russia and Western Europe, more between Islam and Byzantium. Islam has won, though.

*(p. 100) I’ve decided to substitute the word “Allah” for the (translated) word “God” as I read. I’m sure that the original text referred to Allah, and I’m also sure that “God” in a Western (Christian) sense is not a good translation. They’re not the same, are they?

*(p. 245) I don’t like any of the people in this book. The main character, Ka, is dishonest and manipulative, and he can’t decide who he is or what he wants. He wants happpiness, and then hewants to be unhappy. The suicide/head scarf girls also come across as manipulative and unsure of their goals or desires. Ipek, the woman Ka is supposedly pursuing, is alternately a seductress or a coy schoolgirl-ish kid, even though she’s already been married once. And everybody is poor and hopeless and aimless. Maybe the author is trying to show how poor and hopeless and aimless life is in the Turkish countryside. If so, it’s not good PR, but I’m convinced.

* (p. 249) The “love” scene—Yuck!!!!!! “According to the notes Ka made about his lovemaking . . .” Either things are really different in Turkey, or I’m a prude.

* (p. 250) I was wondering if someone died at the end of this book, and now it is revealed. Why does Parmuk write in such a cryptic, detective-novel fashion? Is this style supposed to sustain the reader’s interest?

* Symbols: snow, of course, Ka’s coat, the head scarves, hair, writing poetry, the drink that’s supposed to be poisonous only to Turks. The snow makes Ka think of, even believe in Allah. Ka’s coat is his Western protective covering, the opposite of the girls’ head scarves. Hair, a girl’s hair uncovered, is a symbol of wantonness and Westernized rebellion and atheism. “The only thing Turkish families teach their daughters here is how to be hairdressers . . . There are hundreds of Turkish hairdressers in Frankfurt.” Ka’s poetry comes to him in the midst of noise and confusion; he can’t write any poetry in Frankfurt where he’s alone and there is silence. Salvation through poetry? Poetry reveals the meaning of life? What is the meaning of the drink that may or may not be poisonous?

*Ka’s poems come to him like epileptic seizures. He is seized with a poem and must drop everything to commit his poem to paper. Does poetry really get written this way? Are Ka’s poems really any good? Or is he as crazy as Sunay, the actor, and the rest of the residents of Kars? If I believed that common people in Turkey really thought and acted as the characters in this novel do, I would be further estranged from the Islamic world and the adherents to Islam, not not more inclined to understand and believe in the possibility of reconciliation between East and West. Is it Parmuk’s intent to convey this hopelessness concerning understanding between East and West? The characters in this novel are deeply disturbed and caught up in a totally hopeless situation. The author says at one point that Ka’s fate is not determined, that he has opportunities to choose, to escape his fate, but everything in the novel points to the opposite conclusion: the newspaper that is written and printed before the events take place, Ka’s own pessimism and his end which is revealed long before the end of the novel, the Islamic submission to the will of Allah, the emphasis on play-acting as if we’re all unwilling actors in a play written by someone else (a madman?).

I’m going to post these rambling thoughts on the novel, Snow by Orhan Pamuk, even though I haven’t quite finished the novel, because the discussion starts today at Reading Matters. Go there for more discussion of the novel. I may post some more cohesive reflections on Mr. Pamuk’s book after I finish it.

3 thoughts on “Snow by Orhan Pamuk, Running Commentary

  1. Pingback: Semicolon
  2. student

    Hey, Sorry this is years late – I’m writing a paper on Snow, so I was just snooping around the internet to see people’s opions.

    This has nothing to do with Snow, but your comment about God/Allah – it is an exact translation. The Muslim God and Christian God are one in the same.

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