[Paleopsych] Orhan Pamuk: Snow--Reviews and Interviews
checker at panix.com
Tue Feb 8 20:49:38 UTC 2005
Orhan Pamuk's _Snow_ is nearly an ideal book for my project of abandoning
reality as a source of knowledge of human nature and turning to fiction
instead. Again, I thank Trish for enthusiastically recommending this book.
It's a beautifully written and moving novel, as the reviewers mostly all
agree. The main theme of the novel is the protagonist's struggle to decide
between the Western world, where he exiled to, and the increasingly
religious Turkey of his upbringing.
But does it show vast differences in mentalities between Western and other
processes of thought? I must say that it does not and that I'll have to
read fiction from sources further removed from the West than Turkey.
There are about sixty reviews and interviews below. So this is a very long
e-message. It documents how many times a book can get independently
reviewed in the English speaking press. Some of these reviews got printed
in several papers.
Financial Times (London,England)
May 10, 2003 Saturday
To have and have not Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk tells Robert
Cottrell the west has pushed the world's poor towards envy and
By ROBERT COTTRELL
The view from the terrace offers a vision of earthly riches so sweeping
and extravagant that if the Devil were trying again to tempt Christ after
40 days in the wilderness, I would recommend his doing it in Istanbul. The
city seethes and glitters for miles on all sides, its hills laden with
palaces and mosques and gilded domes. Its lights dance, reflected on the
dark waters of the Bosporus below. Hong Kong or San Francisco may be as
picturesque, but neither can rival Istanbul for sheer drama. Here two
continents begin and end. On the near side of the Bosporus lies Europe. On
the far side lies Asia. And Turkey straddles the space between them,
geographically, historically and intellectually.
The terrace, not far from Taksim Square in the heart of the city,
belongs to Orhan Pamuk, widely considered Turkey's greatest living
novelist. The view is one great delight of this flat that he keeps for
writing. The other is the mass of books lining the walls, thousands of
them, roughly arranged by topics from Japanese fiction to French
philosophy. I think for a moment that Pamuk has all my favourite books,
then I realise he probably has everybody's favourite books.
He is a tall man, a fit-looking 50, dressed casually in the American
fashion, soft-spoken and courteous. His grandfather made a fortune early
last century building railways for the Ataturk regime. His father, who
died just a few months ago, spent the fortune living well, investing
badly, and translating French poetry - a lifestyle choice that Pamuk
clearly admires, even though it left him less rich than he might have
been. John Updike, the American novelist, has compared him with Proust.
The analogy is one that Pamuk himself also makes, a little wistfully, as
Western readers know Pamuk best for My Name is Red, an intricate and
seductive murder mystery set among 16th-century Ottoman miniaturist
painters, which was published in English in 2001. The plot is a fine weave
of theological disputes, court etiquette and miniaturist techniques, shot
through with sex and violence. The critic Maureen Freely called the book
"almost perfect... All it needs now is the Nobel prize".
He is working on a book about Istanbul that will be part-memoir and
part-meditation. He wants to test his own sense of the city, where he was
born and grew up, against the Istanbul that others have remembered and
imagined down the centuries. After that he has a novel planned, "about the
idea of museums, collections, the attachment to objects and the loss of
But if all this sounds a little abstract, a little bookish, there is
another side to Pamuk, a political engagement. He made headlines in 1999,
and risked prosecution, when he signed an international petition urging
the Turkish government to give members of the country's Kurdish minority
"constitutional guarantees" of their rights, and so rescue Turkey from the
"shame" of past repressive policies. In the last five years, says Pamuk,
he has become "more and more political". Attacks on his liberal views in
the Turkish press have only made him "more angry and more involved", he
says. "It is a son-of-a-bitch kind of anger and it turns out to be part of
An article of his which sticks in my mind is one he wrote in September
2001 soon after the attack on the World Trade Center in New York. He
describes meeting a neighbour on the street, an elderly man, who says to
him: "Sir, have you seen, they have bombed America? They did the right
thing!" Pamuk muses on what could prompt an old man in Istanbul to condone
terror in New York, or a Palestinian to admire the Taliban, and he arrives
at a formulation that does not quite blame the west, but which assigns it
a contributory negligence. The basic problem, he says, is "not Islam, nor
what is idiotically described as the clash between east and west, nor
poverty itself. It is the feeling of impotence deriving from degradation,
the failure to be understood, and the inability of such people to make
their voices heard." The west has not tried enough "to understand the
damned of the world".
Pamuk, who professes no religion, has made his own bid since then to
understand Islamic fundamentalism by writing a political novel about its
place in provincial Turkey today. His aim, he says, was to "understand
what a fundamentalist is, in his own terms. Not why he is so right, but
why he is so angry." The subject is a highly sensitive one for Turkey,
which has an overwhelmingly Muslim population, but has proclaimed itself a
secular state since 1923. The government allows freedom of worship, but
keeps a close eye on it through a Directorate of Religious Affairs, and
clamps down smartly on what it regards as signs of fundamentalism - such
as the wearing of headscarves by women, which is forbidden in official
This latest novel, called Snow, has sold 140,000 copies at home since
publication last year, and is now being translated into English. It made
him enemies on two fronts. First were "the ultra- secularists, who were
not pleased to see me going into the inner (thoughts) of religious
fundamentalists," he says. "They did not want to see Islamists as human
beings, they wanted to see them as fanatics, midway to barbarians." Then
there were the Islamists, angered that he gave his religious characters an
active sexual life. "They said, 'How can an Islamist, a true believer,
have sex outside marriage?'" The Islamists, like Marxists before them,
"wanted writers to portray an idealised version of people".
Pamuk accepts cheerfully enough that he makes an easy target for
critics. "I have my subscriptions to the TLS and The New Yorker," he says,
"while other people are more limited here. My name is on the billboards. I
am from the spoiled upper class. People are very resentful."
But when it comes to the war in Iraq, at its height when we talk, Pamuk
is very much in tune with the popular mood. He thought it a dangerous
mistake, as did everybody else I met in Turkey, from a bus driver in
Ankara to a professor of economics in Istanbul. They saw the war as a
foolish adventure promoted by a wilful US president, a US government
wanting Iraqi oil, and a US industrial sector hungry to profit from
reconstructing the country once the war was over. Saddam may be a bad man,
they say, but that did not give the US any right to depose him.
So far, so familiar. The same sort of criticisms could be heard almost
everywhere in the world at the time. But in Turkey they were voiced with a
special anxiety. The country's border with Iraq made it a front-line state
in the war, exposed to stray bombs and refugees. Ninety per cent of the
public was appalled, according to Pamuk, when the Turkish government
seemed ready to join the US war effort in exchange for a big enough
package of US aid - many billions of dollars - which Turkey desperately
needed. That plan was scuppered unexpectedly by the parliament in Ankara,
which voted against letting US combat troops invade northern Iraq from
Pamuk compares the US intervention in Iraq to a strong person
"slapping" or "insulting" a weak one: bad behaviour even when the strong
person believes he has been provoked. The US can do such a thing, he says,
partly because it believes Muslims are "lesser people, backward, stupid,
lazy orientals who don't know about things, who torment women. You have
the feeling that one American life is more important than thousands of
these people. The justification of the war starts with these things."
Reading my notes of the conversation later, I have to remind myself
that Pamuk is an outspoken admirer of western values, western culture,
western democracy. He welcomes globalisation, and Amazon.com cartons
litter his floor. He believes the US is a highly successful social and
economic model. What he objects to is the manner of exporting it. The US
is becoming "fanatical" too, he believes. If the Americans would only
"take all the money they have spent on this war, and spend it like Soros
has done on civil societies in these countries, then in 10 years they
would have wonderful results."
He sees the divide widening between what he calls "this relentless
civilisation of the west, superior in arts, science, education" on one
side, and "85 per cent of the human race, with much lesser,
disintegrating, unsuccessful civilisations" on the other. But he dismisses
the idea that the divide is mainly a religious one, even between the US
and Arab countries. "The Koran is a small part of it. It is not a text
that makes this history, it is history itself: the people, the land, the
climate, the geography. The fact that there is less democracy in the
Middle East, that the Middle East is poor, these are things shaped not by
the Koran but by layers of history and of interaction with the west."
The real gulf, he says, is the material one, between wealth and
poverty. The real question is why it should have become such an acute
problem now. The answer he comes to is that global media have become so
successful, so universal in projecting images of western wealth, that the
picture is getting "impossible to accept, impossible to come to terms
with" in poor countries. The poor have no comparable means of celebrating
their own culture, their own way of life, which might otherwise give them
They are left only with "material envy", says Pamuk, "it is inevitable,
they want the things the Americans have." So long as they lack those
things, he feels, "the only consolation for such a time is nationalism,
past glories, the enjoyment of this or that terrorist attack. They may
know that ethically, morally, this is not right, but secretly they enjoy
In an ideal world, I say, we might debate this, try to understand that
envy of the east and moderate the stereotypes of the west. But in the case
of Iraq, the rich part of the world believed the angry part of the world
was posing a direct threat to it, and was acting to block that threat. Not
so, says Pamuk. In Iraq it is "the rich part of the world making a direct,
violent attack on the poor, disorganised part of the world". The west may
or may not be right to worry about dangers from "ruthless dictators" in
the Middle East, he says, but right now it is part of the west that is
controlled by "a vulgar and brutal and not very sophisticated ruler,
The other big Turkish worry about the war concerned the Kurds, whose
communities straddle the borderlands between eastern Turkey and northern
Iraq. The Turks feared the war might lead to a Kurdish state in northern
Iraq, and with it a new spur to Kurdish separatism in eastern Turkey. Only
four years have passed since the last wave of guerrilla warfare subsided
with the arrest of the Kurdish separatist leader Abdullah Ocalan and the
collapse of his movement, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or the PKK. The
separatist campaign, and Turkey's brutal suppression of it, cost 30,000
lives, most of them Kurdish. It cast a long shadow over civil liberties
and human rights. It soured relations with the European Union so badly as
to set back Turkey's hopes of joining the EU by at least a decade. Nobody
in Turkey, liberal or conservative, wants to go back to those days.
Alternatively, there is Pamuk's approach, which has the merit of
simplicity. "Kurds in northern Iraq should have every right to decide for
themselves what they want to do," he says, "and if they want to have a
state that is their business." If Turkey fears a contagion of separatism
among its own Kurds, it should treat them more kindly and so make them
less restive. Besides, he adds, Turkey is a fragile country economically,
and "the geopolitics of a fragile country should be: 'I am polite to my
I imagine Pamuk (pictured below) is polite to his neighbours too, even
when they applaud the knocking down of the World Trade Center. He loves
Istanbul and everything in it. While researching his new book he has
studied engravings of the city, and finds them full of "nationalistic and
nostalgic sentiments", above all "the feeling of melancholy that comes
from loss of empire". He feels an echo there "of the decay of my family,
as it disintegrates from a big family with uncles and grandmothers to just
the four of us, parents and children, moving from big house to apartment
building, then on our different ways." The big house he knew as a baby was
home to an extended family of 12 or 14 people. Now, after a recent
divorce, he lives alone.
We talk more about melancholy, and I begin to sense how he can admire
the US so much, while criticising it so strongly. "Countries without much
history, or without much sad history, are more naive," he says. "But in
their naivety they are realists, they can see their problems easily. Here
we have lots of melancholy which blurs the vision and which saps the
energy to invent, to invest, to create."
Robert Cottrell has recently completed a spell as the FT's Moscow
bureau chief Orhan Pamuk's novels
The White Castle
The Black Book
The New Life
(all three published in Faber's Threebies series at oe12.99)
My Name is Red (Faber oe7.99)
Snow (will appear in the UK in January 2004)
LOAD-DATE: May 12, 2003
Turkish Daily News
April 15, 2004
TURKEY'S BEST-SELLING NOVELIST SPEAKS IN ANKARA
ANKARA - Internationally renowned Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk said he
was not uncomfortable with his sophisticated style becoming more
accessible to the masses but said he was aware his true audience were few
Pamuk addressed students attending a conference at Ankara's Middle East
Technical University (METU) on Wednesday, sharing the experiences, ironies
and conflicts he has had over the past 31 years while building his career
as a novelist.
"I don't think it's a bad thing that a large number of people are
buying my novels. This is not a loss. However, I also don't believe that I
write for everyone. There are a number of people in Turkey who read books,
and I am writing for them," said Pamuk.
Upon a question of whether he wanted to be a popular novelist or a
novelist with a limited but devoted audience base, Pamuk said, "These are
not contradictory, because I have both."
Having experienced the success of becoming a best-selling novelist in a
country in which the book-reading public is extremely small, Pamuk has
often been the target of criticism for the conduct of advertising
campaigns for his books -- complete with his picture plastered on
billboards in big cities -- a style to which traditional Turkish readers
Still, he doesn't seem to be surprised by his every move causing
controversy and questions in people's minds, especially since his
perceptions of things going on around him, his political stance and his
way of life -- which seem to belong nowhere and which appear to be unlike
those of any other group of people -- are considered.
Tragedy of novelists on world's periphery
In response to a question posed at the conference, Pamuk said: "When an
author in the West writes about the ordinary elements of life -- the pain,
the sorrow, the happiness he sees around him, it is characterized as a
story of humanity. But when an author from a country on the periphery does
the same thing, he is perceived as having voiced ethnic problems. This is
the tragedy of an author living on the periphery but who borrows knowledge
and techniques accumulated by West."
As to his discomfort in being perceived as voicing generalizations,
Pamuk added: "However, it is also meaningless to display hostility towards
the West because such an approach may turn into prejudice against the
West, which is not a good thing."
Who is Orhan Pamuk?
Pamuk is by far the country's most prolific best-selling novelist, and
his books have been translated into more than 20 languages. His first
novel, "Cevdet Bey and His Sons," a dynastic saga of the Istanbul
bourgeoisie, appeared in 1982 after an eight-year search for a publisher.
His second novel, "The White Castle" (published in 1979 but translated
in 1990), the story of a Turkish master and his European slave, is a
perfect example of his melding of modern with traditional Eastern
elements. By the end of the novel the two main characters are
indistinguishable. One of them dies, but we are not quite sure which one.
With his fourth novel, "The Black Book" (1990), a mystery that arrives
at no obvious solution, Pamuk confirmed his international reputation.
Pamuk's novel "My Name is Red," a detective story of sorts, a
multi-layered tale of revenge and jealousy growing out of the Ottomans and
the rise of the Christian West, also attracted the attention of many
His novels are rich with allusion to old Sufi stories and traditional
Islamic tales as well as the tinsel of popular culture.
His other books are "Secret Face, Silent House, New Life, Other Colors,
Snow" and his latest, "Istanbul, Memoirs and the City."
In an article that appeared in Time magazine, journalist Andrew Finkel
wrote: "His work is a rejection of an intellectual tradition that aspired
to be Western by forgetting about the past. 'If you try to repress
memories, something always comes back,' Pamuk says. 'I'm what comes
LOAD-DATE: April 20, 2004
The Irish Times
May 1, 2004
Lukewarm on the heels of the story
Snow By Orhan Pamuk, translated by Maureen Freely Faber, 436pp. £ 12.99
By EILEEN BATTERSBY
Ka, a poet and political exile living in Frankfurt, returns to Turkey
on a mission. He has a job, the investigation of a series of suicides
taking place in Kars, an isolated city near the Armenian border. As he
sits on the old bus taking him there, we are informed of the significance
of the glamorous coat he is wearing.
Right from the outset there is something slightly odd, almost
half-hearted, about this novel. No one could appear less like a journalist
hot on the heels of a suicide epidemic story. Ka's 12 years in Germany may
have rendered him an exile, but Orhan Pamuk is not content to allow the
reader to speculate. He steps right in and within a page is offering a
rather thorough pen-portrait of a character he is presumably hoping will
retain our interest for the next 435 pages. The real reason Ka has come to
Turkey is to bury his mother. And oh yes, there is a girl. He was never
involved with her, but now he knows he loves her.
Snow is a novel in which there is a great deal of talking and not very
much said. It is a disappointment not only because it comes from the Orhan
Pamuk who wrote The White Castle (1979), which impressed on the appearance
of its English translation in 1990, The Black Book (1990, English
translation 1994) and The New Life (1993, 1997), but especially because it
comes from the author of a flamboyantly rich
picaresque-thriller-cum-art-history tour de force, My Name is Red (1998,
2001), which won last year's Dublin International IMPAC Literary Award.
Always a metaphysical, determinedly intellectual writer, with echoes of
Calvino, Borges and Paul Auster, Pamuk is also a daring voice combing
subversion as well as an awareness of Turkey's extraordinary culture and
the ongoing East-West, or Oriental-European, tensions that frustrate,
confuse and intrigue all who explore them. This novel Snow is consistently
at odds with its ambitions and achievement.
Apparently the source of much debate in Turkey, where it managed to
outrage both Islamists and westernised Turks on its publication in 2002,
it presents an unflattering, near-comic portrait of Kars as a place in
which no one is all that sure of anything aside from the fact that several
young girls have killed themselves. In tone, it is reminiscent of Kazuo
Ishiguro's offbeat yarn The Unconsoled (1995). In common with that book it
suffers from being very long, but whereas Ishiguro succeeded in making his
novel's bizarre nature its ultimate strength, Pamuk's narrative merely
emerges as longwinded and improvisational.
For all the sideswipes at the confused politics of several of the
characters who are presented as revolutionaries but are in fact fanatics
and failed lovers mainly at war with themselves, Pamuk has here missed an
opportunity to consider the internal cultural confusions of a country that
is as much torn between its notions of Europe and its place within that
Europe, as Europe itself is confused about where exactly Turkey fits.
Snow is more than the title, it also describes a state of mind or, at
least, the notion of perception as it exists within the book. Ka is a
drifter whose politics are well overshadowed by his poetry and by his
obsessional love for Ipek, a girl whose beauty is one of the major themes
in the narrative. Once in Kars, Ka - whose name also means snow - begins
writing poems with a frenzy akin to the way other people suffer panic
attacks. The poems simply happen.
At no time does it seem that he will be writing any news story. For a
western reader, there is something very confusing about this novel in that
Pamuk himself does not seem to have any opinion regarding the Kurds or
anything else. Belief is throughout treated as a common cold, merely a
nuisance but not all that important. Elsewhere there is a throwaway remark
when Blue, a revolutionary of sorts, remarks to Ka: "Contrary to what our
own Europe-admiring atheists assume, all European intellectuals take their
religion, and their crosses, very seriously. But when our guys return to
Turkey, they never mention this . . ."
The same character later announces: "I refuse to be a European . . .
I'm going to live out my own history and be no one but myself."
Some of the stilted exchanges are funny, as are the sexual digressions,
if only because the entire novel is so odd. There are also a couple of
almost comic sequences, such as when one young would-be revolutionary
wants to tell Ka ,the poet, about the science fiction novel he wants to
write. Ka, a Woody Allen without the wit, a study in dozy ambivalence,
never engages the reader because he does not exist beyond Ipek's beauty.
One would wonder at Pamuk's intentions in this rambling, heavy-footed
and slight-as-cake performance. He has populated Kars with a cast of
misfits who spend their days watching television and the snow, who
complain but will only undertake the craziest of projects, and who have
somehow missed the point of both their country and their culture.
Snow, written in a heavy prose not helped by the preening authorial
intrusions, is not only lacking Pamuk's proven metaphysical intelligence
and imagination, it is also without his sense of direction, or conviction.
Eileen Battersby is Literary Correspondent of The Irish Times
LOAD-DATE: May 1, 2004
May 08, 2004
Rather cold Turkey;
John de Falbe
SNOW by Orhan Pamuk Faber, GBP 16.99, pp. 436, ISBN 057121830X
In 1919 my grandfather was in Kars, near what is now Turkey's
north-eastern frontier, as part of a British occupation force connected
with what might be regarded as the first oil war. Kars had recently been
abandoned by the Russians after nearly a century (Pushkin stayed there)
and was soon to be handed over to the Turks. Twenty years ago I happened
to visit this dilapidated town myself; the colonial buildings still
endowed it with pathetic grandeur.
The Russians and Armenians who once lived here hover like shadows
behind the modern Turks of Snow, and the prejudices and politics that
bedevil the characters of this remarkable novel echo the forces that
ejected their predecessors from the city.
What was once a place of some sophistication is now as poor and
backward as anywhere in Turkey - which is partly why Pamuk has chosen to
set Snow here.
Another reason is the town's name. The Turkish title is Kar, the
Turkish for snow.
During the three days of Snow's action Kars has been cut off from the
outside world by heavy snowfalls. It won't give much away to say that the
denouement occurs during what the Border City Gazette describes as 'an
adaptation of a drama penned by Thomas Kyd . . .' If this doesn't make you
want to read the book, then it might stir your curiosity to learn that the
main performers are Sunay, a washed-up actor who staged a coup in a
performance two days previously, and Kadife, a beautiful 16-year-old girl
who is about to remove her headscarf before an audience that includes many
The novel's main character is Ka, a poet who has returned from
political exile in Germany to write a piece for an Istanbul newspaper
about the spate of suicides by Kars girls. An innocent abroad, he is
caught up in a bloody coup. He only wants to get back to Frankfurt with
Kadife's sister but instead finds himself used as a gobetween by the
Ataturk-loving Sunay, and Blue, a terrorist loved by Kadife.
Regarded as an atheist by the Islamists and credulous by the secular
group, his position is complicated by the fact that poems start crowding
in on him. The title of his Kars collection is, of course, Snow.
Pamuk uses the snow metaphor to dizzying effect (there is an echo,
too, in Ka's name). Snow isolates people but also draws them together, it
smothers and freezes them but it also reminds Ka of God, 'of the beauty
and mystery of creation, of the essential joy that is life'.
Snowflakes, like people, are unique.
Pamuk is persuasive about Ka's religious sentiments, but he isn't in
the business of offering solutions: he is persuasive from every direction,
so that we feel sympathetic to Blue's contempt for the West's cult of the
individual just as we despair at the confusions of political Islam.
Snow has already been a bestseller in Turkey - given Pamuk's stature
as a novelist and the novel's content it could hardly fail to be. But what
makes it a brilliant novel is its artistry. Pamuk keeps so many balls in
the air that you cannot separate the inquiry into the nature of religious
belief from the examination of modern Turkey, the investigation of
East-West relations, and the nature of art itself - and, by implication,
life, for the stage(d) coup is certainly deadly, and art and life mimic
one another with hideous, occasionally hilarious, persistence. All this
rolled into a gripping political thriller.
LOAD-DATE: May 10, 2004
The Guardian (London) - Final Edition
May 8, 2004
Saturday Review: Profile: Orhan Pamuk: Occidental hero: Orhan Pamuk:
Occidental hero: Born in Istanbul to a wealthy family, he abandoned
architecture studies to write his first book, but struggled to find a
publisher. Now Turkey's best-selling novelist, his newly translated Snow
depicts a military coup. His opposition to the Rushdie fatwa and support
for the Kurds means he is seen by some as a political renegade, but he
remains outspoken. Nicholas Wroe reports
In 1994, billboards appeared all over Istanbul bearing the words: "I
read a book one day and my whole life was changed." They formed part of an
advertising campaign for Orhan Pamuk's novel of that year, The New Life ,
and the phrase was the book's opening line. The marketing of popular
fiction in this way is nothing new -although it was innovative in Turkey
at the time - but what made the approach so unusual was that Pamuk's
writing would not be immediately recognisable as the stuff of mass-market
John Updike, praising The New Life , said Pamuk "in his dispassionate
intelligence and arabesques of introspection suggests Proust". But Updike
also noted that Pamuk was that most unusual of literary creatures, "both a
best-selling author and an avant-garde writer". Pamuk's novels exuberantly
embrace postmodernist narrative trickery and his work has been compared to
Kafka, Borges, Calvino and Garcia Marquez. "I was as surprised as anyone
about my sales," he says. "My first novel ( Cevdet Bey and His Sons, 1982)
sold 2,000 copies in Turkey in the first year. The second ( The Quiet
House, 1983) sold 8,000 copies, which was very good. But then the third
book ( The White Castle, 1985) sold 16,000 and the fourth ( The Black
Book, 1990) 32,000. So I was joking with friends that The New Life would
sell 64,000 but it sold 164,000 copies in its first year." It was by some
distance the fastest-selling novel in Turkish publishing history and the
print run for his next novel, My Name is Red , in 1998, was the
largest-ever in Turkey.
The flat where Pamuk writes in Istanbul overlooks the Golden Horn and
has views of the Topkapi Palace on one side and the suspension bridge that
links Europe and Asia on the other. To the periodic accompaniment of a
muezzin's call to prayer from the next-door mosque, he attempts to make
sense of his unprecedented commercial success.
"When I was first published, the Marxists and the conservatives and
the political Islamists were all fighting against each other and fighting
among themselves," he recalls. "So, because I was a newcomer they all kind
of welcomed me, although a bit suspiciously. But it meant that I got all
the prizes. And then a media boom began in Turkey and suddenly the
interest in books was huge."
While this helps to explain the demographics of his success, in
artistic terms his work has tapped into the modern Turkish psyche at a
most profound level. He acknowledges that a common theme in his books has
been "cultural change; living in a westernised fashion in a country that
is essentially not western". His work is full of reminiscences and he
subtly engages with the past of his characters and their societies. An
aggressive westernising agenda has been the dominant official force in
Turkish life for more than a century, and Pamuk is a product of a ruling
class that has benefited from this regime. But his work, like the world
around him, is also marked by the legacy of a longer social, cultural and
The novelist and journalist Maureen Freely was brought up in Istanbul
as a contemporary of Pamuk's and knew his family. She is also the
translator of his latest novel, Snow , which is published in the UK this
month. "The rapidity of social change in Turkey has been amazing," she
says. "And it has also been a source of considerable pain and confusion.
Everything Orhan writes speaks to that and to the debates people are
having inside themselves but they can't quite put into words."
Freely adds that while his "modernist/postmodernist games involve
using elements from opposing traditions that, when seen together, defy
reason and make a 'grand narrative' impossible, they are perhaps less
difficult for a modern Turkish reader to understand in that this is their
daily experience - living in a part-eastern, part-western culture that
changes rapidly - and there is never time to sit back and ask how it all
Professor Jale Parla of Bilgi University in Istanbul has written
extensively about Pamuk. She ascribes his success to his "rare gift of
that genius that beguiles at the same time as it challenges. The paradox
that he is a 'difficult' best-seller is a myth that is created by the
intellectual community in Turkey who are aware of the complexity of his
novels but miss their beguiling simplicity." (Parla also acknowledges that
there are readers who see only the simplicity and "miss the beguiling".)
In Turkey, the launch of a new Pamuk novel has more in common with the
release of a Hollywood film than the publication of a book. There is media
saturation and considerable cachet in being seen with his latest work.
Although some snipe that he is probably more bought than read, a more
serious criticism, usually from a left-nationalist perspective, is that he
has sold out to a European audience, a view apparently given added
credence when Pamuk was awarded the euros 100,000 Impac prize last year
for My Name is Red
"When my sales went up my welcome from the Turkish literary scene
disappeared," he says. "And I haven't been given any prizes in Turkey
since the age of 35. I started to get harsh and envious criticism and I
now don't expect to get good reviews any more. For the last few books they
haven't even criticised what I have written, instead they criticise the
marketing campaign." It is difficult to overestimate his public profile.
"If he puts one foot in front of the other it will get into the papers,"
says one friend. His outspoken stance on the broad human-rights agenda,
which has included women's and Kurdish rights, democratic reforms as well
as environmentalism, has made him a lightning conductor for criticism.
Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the radical French student leader-turned Green
European MP, first met Pamuk in 2001 on an official visit to Istanbul. He
invited Pamuk on to his Swiss television show about books. Cohn-Bendit
says Pamuk "was one of the intellectuals who made me understand the
importance of Turkey joining the European Union. It is so important for
democrats in that country. Orhan is not only one of the most important
modern writers in Europe, he is one of the examples of the possible
modernity of Turkey."
But for all the contentious stances he has taken, Pamuk rarely deals
with political issues head-on in his fiction, and he has even been
criticised by his natural supporters, who claim the distancing effect of
some of his postmodernist techniques has made his work too apolitical.
However, Pamuk says the idea of writing a "Dostoyevskian political novel"
was in his head while he was working on Snow . "In the late-70s I tried to
write a political novel about people like me: upper-class or middle-class
students who went with their families to summer houses but also played
around with guns and Maoist texts and had fanciful ideas about throwing a
bomb at the prime minister."
However in 1980, when the army responded to a parliamentary logjam, a
deteriorating economy and widespread political violence by staging a coup
and formally taking over the running of a country much of which was
already under martial law, it was impossible to publish such a book.
Pamuk says that 18 years on the vogue for Marxism had passed, "and the
interesting thing was political Islamists. I had lots of friends who
secretly admired them. Many hard-core political Islamists learned a lot
from Turkey's Marxist-Leninists because nationalism and anti-westernism
are at the heart of both. It is a secret anthropological history how
similar they are. So I decided to write another novel. I liked the idea of
this town being cut off from the rest of Turkey by snow; and there is a
military coup." Set in 1992, the novel is part love story, part political
thriller and features a poet visiting a remote town in eastern Turkey
under the pretext of a journalistic assignment. Pamuk used the same ruse
to undertake his research and many of the details in the book reflect his
own experiences in the town of Kars, including being picked up by the
local police who were suspicious of his movements.
All Pamuk's novels have included autobiographical strands, but in his
most recent book, Istanbul - published in Turkey late last year and due
out in the UK in 2005 - he explicitly mixes memoir with his thoughts about
the city. One of the chapters is about "The Rich", the social group into
which he was born. "My grandfather was a rich person and my father's
generation had much money, which they wasted. My childhood was full of my
grandmother crying because my father or uncles were selling this or that.
The family wealth came from building railroads in the 1930s. They were
instigating the new Turkish republic and were literally building the
nation. By the time I was growing up, the wealth was going down, but they
still had the instincts of rich people. Even though my grandfather's money
had evaporated, our lifestyle didn't change. But there were signs that the
money was going and there were always feuds. People blamed other people
all the time."
Pamuk was born in Istanbul in June 1952 and a description of the
upper-class neighbourhood he grew up in can be found in the The Black Book
. "I was meticulous and perhaps pompous; I wanted to be like James Joyce
in getting every detail correct about which shops were there at the time.
Before I was born my family had a large house, the ultimate Ottoman
mansion, with the whole family in different parts of the building and lots
of servants. But that disintegrated and they wanted to be western, so they
built an apartment block for themselves where the main doors were locked
but inside all the apartment doors were open, and I would walk between the
apartments of my uncles and cousins and my grandmother. But as the money
ran out they began to sell the apartments and my family eventually moved
to a better one, but one they rented and didn't own." Pamuk has bought a
flat in the original family block and lives there again.
His father, who died last year, was a businessman and a "failed poet"
- "perhaps typical of second-generation wealth". Like the father figure in
My Name is Red , he would periodically disappear from home. "He looked
down on the Turkish literary scene but thought of Paris as a cool place to
be so that's where he went," says Pamuk. "He married early and had chil
dren and I think he regretted that. He wanted to carry on with his youth."
Pamuk's mother and elder brother, a professor of economics, still live
in the city. There is tension between the brothers, says Pamuk, because in
Istanbul he wrote about the beatings he received from his brother when
they were children. "People thought that because I am an apparently
successful, upper-class, happy person I wouldn't write about things like
that. But it is in our culture and it was my right to write about it. And
then the media latched on to it and it made headlines."
Pamuk and his brother attended the American school in Istanbul where
they were taught in English and Turkish. The school catered for a social
elite and has produced several Turkish prime ministers, but most of its
alumni run Turkish industry and academia. "That sort of education makes
you too secular and too westernised to properly stay in touch with
traditional voters," says Pamuk.
Vedit Inal, now a lecturer in economics, was a school and college
friend and remembers Pamuk as witty, a good student and a basketball
player. "He hasn't changed much as a character. He was always able to look
at things from an unusual angle. And at first he wanted to be a painter,
not a writer."
Pamuk says he went through childhood being told he had a talent for
painting, but the family tradition in engineering meant "that only things
like engineering and mathematics counted. Religion, for example, was
something just for the poor. The only time I was taken to the mosque was
by my maid, when she went there to chat to her friends. The ruling
westernised elite thought religion was one of the reasons for our glorious
Ottoman empire's decline. But from the 60s they also saw it had an immense
political power. If you showed the voters you were religious you got more
votes and since then the upper classes have been scared of the lower
classes and urban Turkey has been more religious." The arts and humanities
were similarly disregarded and his family was not enthusiastic about the
idea of him becoming a professional painter. "But instead of sending me to
be a civil engineer, they thought because I was an arty guy perhaps I
should be an architect."
When Pamuk went to university in Istanbul in 1970 it was a militant
Marxist campus and he was on the left. "But although I was reading the
literature of all these little Marxist factions, I never joined any, and I
would go home and read Virginia Woolf. Although I had my sympathies, I
saved my spirits by reading Woolf and Faulkner and Mann and Proust. I felt
guilty but I also felt they were more interesting." Pamuk had been a
prodigious reader of classic French, Russian and English fiction since
childhood and after three years studying architecture, "suddenly announced
that I wasn't going to go to school any more and I wasn't going to paint.
I was going to write novels."
Freely says several contemporaries were, like Pamuk, interestingly
quirky thinkers. "But while they fell by the way side, he pushed on and
found out who he really was through his writing. And it was difficult. For
families from his class engineering was everything. Of course there were
quite a few of us interested in artistic things, but there was a very
strong feeling that anyone with skills should put them in service of the
country. His family were not happy at all about what he was doing but that
wouldn't mean they didn't support him. Your family is your social security
Pamuk says he received "pocket money" from his father until he was 32.
"But even my father, who had translated Valery, said I should stay on and
finish that stupid architecture school. Their attitude was that all the
artists and intellectuals in the country were doomed because there was not
much interest in what they had to offer. And they were all drunks. So I
worked very hard to make myself a novelist and finish my first book. I
didn't want anyone to say - even though secretly I was saying it to myself
- that I left school for nothing and was wasting my life."
Although a leftist himself he felt little sympathy with the
socialist-sanctioned realism of Gorky or Steinbeck or some Turkish village
novelists. "There were modernist poetry groups and magazines with which I
sympathised but I didn't really develop any literary friendships in my
20s. I was arrogant and I looked down a little on them and thought they
were a bit simplistic. Because of that it was a problem to publish my
first book." It took him four years to complete Cevdet Bey and His Sons -
"a family saga that is really about my grandfather making his money" - and
although it won a competition to be published, Pamuk eventually had to sue
the publisher before it finally appeared in print three years later.
"Getting published in England and America and in 35 languages was easy
compared with first getting published in Turkey," he laughs.
Throughout his time writing the novel, Pamuk had been enrolled in a
journalism school just to put off his military service. But aged 30 in
1982, he did his spell in the military, and when he came out he married
Aylin Turegen, a historian of Russian descent. Their daughter, Ruya, was
born in 1991. The couple divorced three years ago. Cevdet Bey was
published the same year as his marriage, followed the next year by The
Parla sees Pamuk "as a very conscious inheritor of the novelistic
tradition, both with regards to Turkey and the west. It is no coincidence
that he started his writing in a very classical format, that of the
bildungsroman, in Cevdet Bey, and moved gradually through the modernism of
Sessiz Ev ( The Quiet House ) to the post-colonial and post-modern works
exemplified by The White Castle , The Black Book , The New Life , and My
Name Is Red ."
After the 1985 publication of his third novel, The White Castle, about
a 17th-century Christian slave and his Muslim master who swap identities,
the Pamuks moved to New York for three years so Aylin could study for a
PhD at Columbia. Pamuk attended the Iowa writing school and taught a
Turkish language class, but mostly he occupied a small room above the
Col-umbia library where he began work on The Black Book , the contemporary
story of a lawyer searching Istanbul for his lost wife.
"My cubicle was above three million books and I was very happy there,"
he says. "There was a good collection of Turkish books going back to the
1930s and many of them had not even had the pages cut. No one had ever
looked at them before me." The publisher Keith Goldsmith, now with Knopf
in New York, was working for Carcanet, the British publisher. He was
recommended Pamuk's work by a Turkish friend and through him The White
Castle became Pamuk's first book translated into English.
"Orhan was a very attractive character who was constantly
chain-smoking, drinking coffee and speaking a mile a minute," says
Goldsmith. "And it was plain that in his work, although it was cast in an
historical period, he was addressing something of the essence of what was
going on in the world today. He has obviously put his finger on something
that relates to Turkey, but he has a resonance far beyond the place and
the time he is apparently writing about. He is really a writer for the
The books now sell worldwide and Pamuk says the initial impact of this
was to make him more conscious of his Turkishness. "I was surprised that
the word Turk was used as a sort of synonym for my name. Instead of
writing 'Pamuk says this or that' they wrote that 'this Turkish author
said this or that'. It did upset me a little. If I write an essay about
Proust or Hemingway I might occasionally write about the French or
American author, but not all the time. It seems if you write fiction in
that part of the world your nationality is not that important, but if you
write fiction in this part of the world your nationality and, even worse,
ethnicity are important. When an English writer writes about a love affair
he writes about humanity's love affair, but when I write about a love
affair I am only talking about a Turk's love affair."
Pamuk says that as soon as he began to publish he realised he was
expected to have an opinion on everything. "They would ask me what
deodorants I used and I would answer them so I got a reputation for
answering every question. For the first three or four years I didn't worry
much about politics. The previous generation sneered at me as someone who
became popular after a military coup. They implied my work was a product
of that coup, which of course was not true. But although I was not in any
party, I was still a leftist like them and as my fame grew, the new
generation knew my opinions on things and especially on the Kurdish issue
and on freedom of speech."
He, and two other Turkish novelists, Yasar Kemal and Aziz Nesin, were
the first writers from a Muslim country to speak out against the fatwa
issued against Salman Rushdie. "Three days later President Rafsanjani
answered back from Tehran complaining that Iran's neighbours were siding
with Rushdie, who had insulted the Prophet. I was famous by then, but not
that famous. No one knew my address, so I didn't worry too much."
Following the success of The New Life, he agreed to sell a Kurdish
newspaper on the streets after the bombing of its offices by, it was
generally assumed, government agencies. Through much of the 80s and 90s, a
civil war was fought in east and southeast Turkey between government
forces and Kurdish rebels from the secessionist Kurdistan Workers Party
(PKK). Pamuk recalls a "horrific atmosphere " at the time and says that
when some "leftists and liberals and Kurds who were not ultra-nationalist
tried to do something against the war and they wanted to use me, I said
The result was that he was called a "renegade" on the front page of a
national newspaper, and sections of Turkish society and the state have
never forgiven him.
Pamuk began to write controversial articles for German newspapers and,
in the late 90s, he signed a statement with other writers and
intellectuals calling the government's Kurdish policy "a huge mistake".
The government offered him an olive branch with the accolade of "state
artist", but Pamuk refused it, saying that if he accepted, he couldn't
"look in the face of people I care about".
He now says the Kurds lost that war, which he thought "was bad for
Turkey. There should have been concessions from both sides to reach a
peace. That would have saved so much time and would have been much better
for the country. I just hope that over time the Turks forget some of their
Turkishness and Kurds forget some of their Kurdishness. And my dream of
Europe is something that can do that. "
"He has been courageous about human-rights issues," says Freely, "and
has been very lucky not to have spent time in prison for his views. Any
classmate of ours who was remotely interested in politics ended up in
prison at some time or other. The fact that he can get away with saying
things about the state because of his international reputation makes the
obligation greater for him to do so when he can. And there is a sense that
the human rights issue has to be addressed before they stand any chance of
joining the European Union."
Inal says that writers have an unusual mission in Turkey. "They are
not just people working in their rooms. People ask them about social and
political events and they have to respond. He has to give a provocative
response so that people can look at things from different angles.
Personally he is a loner and would prefer to be at home working and
thinking about nothing more than writing. But he knows he also has a
mission and he takes his social and political responsibilities seriously."
"People say I must have had great self-confidence to continue for so
long without being published," he says. "Perhaps that is true, but in fact
I had burnt my boats and could not go back. I knew I had to reach that
shore and this is how I have done it.
"There are writers like Nabokov and Naipaul and Conrad who exchanged
their civilisations and nations and even languages. It is a very cherished
and fashionable idea in literature and so in a sense I am embarrassed that
I have done none of this. I have lived virtually in the same street all my
life and I currently live in the apartment block where I was brought up.
But this is how it has to be for me and this is what I do. And look at my
view. From here it is not so difficult to see the world."
Snow is published by Faber & Faber at £16.99. To order a copy for
£14.99 plus p&p call Guardian book service on 0870 836 0875.
Life at a glance
Born: June 7, 1952, Istanbul.
Education: Robert College, Istanbul; Istanbul Technical University;
Institute of Journalism at the Istanbul University.
Family: 1982 married Aylin Turegen; divorced 2001(one daughter,
Some books: 1982 Cevdet Bey ve Ogullari (Cevdet Bey and His Sons); '83
Sessiz Ev (The Quiet House); '91 The White Castle; '95 The Black Book; '97
The New Life; 2001 My Name is Red; '03 Istanbul (not yet translated); '04
Prizes: 1983 Orhan Kemal Novel Prize; '84 Madarali Novel Prize; 2003
LOAD-DATE: May 8, 2004
May 10, 2004
LENGTH: 675 words
Fiction - Veiled hatred; Snow Orhan Pamuk Faber & Faber, 436pp,
GBP12.99 ISBN 0571220657
The concept of the 'Turkish novel', like the Moroccan or the Egyptian
novel, is one we accept without question, though it contains the germ of a
controversy. The novel, as readers of Cervantes and Dickens understand it,
is a European form with roots in the Renaissance, individualism and
romanticism, and an awareness of its own fictitiousness. When it is used
by a Turkish writer to dramatise the competing claims of European
secularism and political Islam, the result, at least at the level of form,
is a foregone conclusion - Europe and secularism win.
Orhan Pamuk wrestles with this ambiguity on every page of his profound
and frequently brilliant new novel. Set in the 1990s, Snow presents Turkey
as a nation far more unsure of its identity, and far crueller on both
sides of the secular-Islamic divide, than we imagine. Pamuk's device for
arranging his material recalls the allegories of writers such as
Durrenmatt and Boll. His hero is a poet named Ka who, returning to Turkey
after 12 years in political exile in Frankfurt, attends his mother's
funeral in Istanbul, then accepts a commission to write an article about
the forthcoming elections in the distant city of Kars, near the Armenian
border. There has been a spate of suicides by women in the city, and the
foreign press, despite local obstruction, is starting to get interested.
Kars is poor, on the road to nowhere. It clings to the remnants of a
grander Russian past and is uneasily caught between the secular status quo
and rising Islamist parties. The thickly falling snow blankets its poverty
and, to the poet's eyes, 'casts a veil over hatred'. It also cuts the city
off within a day of Ka's arrival.
That phrase 'casts a veil over hatred' is indicative of Pamuk's style
and the ambiguities it expresses. Hatred is veiled, but veiling it does
not resolve it. The snow of the title becomes a potent metaphor, returning
Ka to 'the happiness and purity he had once known as a child'; he
remembers writing in a poem that 'it snows only once in our dreams'. Snow
is beauty and it is obstacle. And blood is brightest - or blackest -
All Pamuk's characters seek stability within Turkey's fragile,
undetermined identity. Generally it eludes them. All are tormented by both
inner and outer uncertainties. Pamuk recognises that politics and
psychology are one; this is one of his 'hidden symmetries'. How can people
be free if the state does not free them? How can the state be free if
people do not allow diversity in the body politic?
The conundrum is worked through with remarkable clarity. At a
performance in the National Theatre, where Ka has performed his poem
'Snow', a coup is mounted by freelance military elements and many pupils
from the Islamic religious high school are killed. The soldiers' leader is
Z Demirkol, an ex-communist whose participation provides another symmetry
- the pardoned ex-communist becomes the protector of the secular state,
while the passive poor and unemployed are won over to political Islam. The
subsequent events - the brutal round-up of religious leaders and Islamist
candidates, the negotiations for a truce, Ka's failed love affair - show
violence and failure as the blizzard produced by illiberality and
Pamuk's modesty as a writer, his refusal to write as if he knows what
is happening, is one of his finest qualities. There are episodes in this
novel - such as the con-versation in a coffee shop between the director of
the education institute and his assassin about the state's banning of
headscarves - that illuminate the confrontation between secular and
extremist Islamic worlds better than any work of non- fiction I can think
One of Ka's interlocutors, a theologian named Blue, complains that
because the country has fallen under the spell of the west, it has
forgotten its own stories. This may be true. But Pamuk shows decisively
that the European novel (here superbly translated by Maureen Freely)
remains a form, and a freedom, for which we have reason to be thankful.
LOAD-DATE: May 6, 2004
May 14, 2004
BOOKS: A COLD FRONT IN ANATOLIA
Orhan Pamuk's novel is set in the winter of 1992 in the city of Kars in
the north-eastern part of Turkey, not far from the borders of Armenia and
Russia. Snow is falling heavily when Kerim Alakusoglu, who prefers to be
known by his initials Ka, arrives by bus. He is a poet who has lived in
Frankfurt for 12 years. He has returned to Turkey to attend his mother's
funeral in Istanbul, where he was born and raised.
A liberal journal, The Republican, commissions him to write an
investigative piece about curious events in the remote city, and that is
what Ka intends to do at the outset. A number of young women, fervent
Islamists, have committed suicide rather than divest themselves of the
headscarves that cover their hair.
Ka, in his role of disinterested journalist, questions the girls'
families and friends and visits the police, the editor of a newspaper, the
Border City Gazette, and other dignitaries. The elegant overcoat he wears
(purchased in Frankfurt) marks him out for many in Kars as a Westernised
intellectual. For them, Westernisation is synonymous with atheism. They
are not to know that during his brief stay among them he is trying to find
a way back to God.
The multi-layered story is told by Pamuk himself, with the assistance
of the notes Ka kept in Kars. These have been retrieved from Ka's flat in
Frankfurt, four years later. The principal theme is concerned with the
burgeoning of Ka's love for the beautiful Ipek, a former classmate in
Istanbul, who is separated from her husband Muhtar, another friend from
Ka's student days.
With this romantic obsession comes the reflowering of Ka's poetic
talent, lying dormant for some time. In beleaguered Kars, he writes 19
poems with a new-found ease and fluency. It's as if they are demanding
that he set them down in his green notebook. We know that certain poets
had these sudden bursts of creativity and Ka, in the midst of violence and
murder, experiences the always surprising contentment that accompanies
Snow is also an avowedly political work of fiction, of a kind still
relatively rare in Britain. It finds voices for religious and other
fanatics, for reactionaries and the occasional moderniser, and those who
maintain that their arcane beliefs need not be challenged with reason.
Chief among these disconcerting characters is a dashingly handsome
terrorist who goes under the sobriquet Blue. He is probably the mastermind
who instigated the assassination of a camp television host who cocked a
snook too many at Muhammad.
His conversations with Ka are teasing and menacing by turns, with Blue
setting little linguistic traps for the poet. These scenes are very
cunningly written. Blue is flamboyant in his crafty way, but outmatched in
flamboyance by Sunay Zaim and his wife Funda Eser, a pair of strolling
players who have performed in tiny towns across Anatolia, spreading the
word of republicanism in sketches. They reminded me of Dario Fo and Franca
Rame, who have been mocking Italian governments for more than three
In Snow, Sunay and Funda are responsible for a military coup, following
a performance at the National Theatre that incites the fundamentalists in
the audience to hurl abuse at the actors and to riot. Pamuk is aware that
in certain cultures the theatre has to be subversive. Taking Brecht's
theories into account, Sunay and Funda use skits on TV commercials and
belly dancing to make people think, even as they are entertaining them.
But it's the characterisation of Serdar, editor of the Border City
Gazette, that best demon- strates Pamuk's penchant for serious
playfulness. It is Serdar 's gift to provide crudely detailed descriptions
of events before they happen. Serdar is the classic devious newsman, a
fabricator of sensational headlines that just occasionally contain a
scintilla of truth.
Four epigraphs precede this complex and ambitious novel, two especially
apropos. The first is from Robert Brown- ing's "Bishop Blougram's
Apology": "Our interest's on the dangerous edge of things,/ The honest
thief, the tender murderer,/ The superstitious atheist"; the second is
from Stendhal's The Charterhouse of Parma: "Politics in a literary work
are a pistol shot in the middle of a concert, a crude affair though one
impossible to ignore. We are about to speak of ugly matters."
That's precisely what Snow does, circuitously and cleverly. At its
centre is the doomed romantic Ka, who has read the great poets and
attempts to bring to his work some of their potent confusions. It's a
novel full of orchestrated surprises and shocks, and perhaps too many
overlong digressions. Pamuk has fared badly in the past with some English
translations, but Maureen Freely has served him excellently here. Those
readers who love, as I do, his previous novel My Name is Red, should be
warned that Snow is radically different and contemporary. Pamuk is not in
the business of offering his public more of the same, exotic thing.
Paul Bailey's latest novel is Uncle Rudolf' (Fourth Estate)
LOAD-DATE: May 14, 2004
Sunday Times (London)
May 16, 2004, Sunday
SNOW by Orhan Pamuk translated by Maureen Freely. Faber £12.99 pp436
Orhan Pamuk's novel Snow sold 100,000 copies in his native Turkey,
partly because it managed to offend both the secular Turkish intellectuals
and extremist "Islamists" it portrays. Reading it now in Maureen Freely's
excellent translation, this ambitious, faintly frustrating book seemed to
me, as an outsider, nine parts crowded farce and one part poetic lament.
Perhaps it offended everybody by taking nobody seriously. It has one
overriding message -men constantly deceive themselves and others. In
Pamuk's satirised provincial Turkey the fiercest anti-Europeans have
pictures of Venice on their walls, the strongest moralists are repressed
lovers, and poets who meddle with politics get symbolically shot through
Ka, a solitary, dreamy Turkish poet in exile, returns to the remote
town of Kars just before snow makes the roads impassable. His visit is
ostensibly to write an article explaining the epidemic of suicides among
young Islamic "covered" women, but really he is here in search of a
beautiful, recently divorced contemporary of his, Ipek. As a famous former
son, Ka is co-opted by all his home town's countless factions, and acts as
a passive foil for, among others, the police, the naive, touching students
from the Islamic religious school and the seductively welcoming old local,
Sheikh Saadettin Efendi, whose wily kindness makes Ka long to be
"provincial too...forgotten in the most unknown corner of the universe".
It is a vain wish, for almost as soon as Ka arrives he sees the local
head teacher shot dead at point-blank range, and while the snow lasts,
Kars becomes the site of a revolution. This becomes so exaggeratedly
theatrical -the two main coups actually happen on stage, when guns waved
by actors turn out to contain live ammunition -that Pamuk seems to be
making the point that all political acts are so much posturing, although
in the best pages in the book the tense dialogue between the head teacher
and his murderer suggest otherwise. The laughing despair with which Pamuk
for the most part sketches his characters' predicaments distances him from
them and leaves the original questions about the inner life of the covered
women largely unanswered. Ka is too self-conscious and self-obsessed a
character to evoke much sympathy, and Ipek, Ka's beloved, remains
elliptical, characterised primarily by her physical beauty.
But then, as the title suggests, Ka, and behind him Pamuk, is actually
in love with the quiet beauty of the snow that frames the human acts.
Snow, "the silence of snow", snow in all kinds of light and at all
different times of day, make Kars, and the non-human parts of this book,
beautiful, a grave backdrop to the ant like kicking and struggling of the
people. Pamuk is looking for "hidden symmetries" just as Ka, in the thick
of the shootings and interrogations, is listening for "the only sound that
could ever make him happy: the sound of his muse".
The complexity of Pamuk's skilful structure reveals itself little by
Halfway through the book we discover Ka is the former schoolfriend of
Orhan Bey, the journalist who is supposedly writing the novel after Ka's
death. Orhan Bey is in quest of a green notebook containing the sequence
of poems built around the form of a six-pointed snowflake, which Ka wrote
during his stay in Kars, and judged to be the best thing he had ever
written. Their titles lend shape to the novel we are reading, but the
notebook itself is never found. In a final Pamukian irony, the poems,
ultimate focus of all the hero's efforts, melt like a silent snowflake as
this big, noisy novel closes. q Available at the Sunday Times Books First
price of £10.39 plus £2.25 p&p on 0870 165 8585
LOAD-DATE: May 17, 2004
May 19, 2004
The white stuff;
Omer Ali talks to cultureclash chronicler Orhan Pamuk.
An emigri Turkish poet known as Ka finds himself trapped in a town
called Kars, on Turkey's north-eastern border with Armenia, first by a
blizzard and then by avery Turkish coup: bloody, muddled, steeped in
jumbled art and political theory,with military help and under the eye of
the intelligence service.
Ka's underlying motive for going to Kars is to woo an old flame and
persuade herto return to Germany with him, but he finds himself embroiled
in a fundamentalist affair, at odds with the precepts of a secular state.
Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk has depicted the pressures on a country
caught between East and West before, but seventh novel 'Snow', his fifth
to be translated into English, is the first time he has tackled politics
and religion so overtly. 'This is my thirtieth year of writing fiction, '
the 51-year-old explains on the phone from Istanbul. 'For the first 20
years I neverthought of writing political anything because a previous
generation of Turkish writers was so political and, frankly, I hated
political fiction.' Since the mid-'90s he has become well known for
campaigning on behalf of the Kurds and forfreedom of expression. 'I did so
much of it that in the end I became notorious and found myself in
politics. I decided that why don't I get this out of my chest do it once
and for all. Of course, as a literary form the political novel was
outmoded. First of all the question was not political but literary: how to
make this old thing new again?' What about the possible repercussions?
'Well, I don't want to exaggerate it, but before the book was published we
were a bit worried about various reactions, including the government's,
but we didn'thave any problem with the state. But there are two essential
reactions, first from the conservative or you can even say fundamentalist
political Islamist side, which was essentially, Islamists are not like
that. For example, you have an Islamic militant in the book , who the
reader knows is also a killer, who ishaving sex outside of marriage a
proper Islamist wouldn't do that, which is party true and partly has
nothing to do with what happens in life.
'The other criticism comes from the more Jacobean side of the picture:
they wereupset by the fact that I was interested in the problems of
Turkey's Kurds, problems of freedom of expression in relation to political
Islamists and Kurds, and worried about my critique of the army and Turkish
bureaucracy and state. They were upset by the fact that I tried to
understand why a fundamentalist actsin a certain way, how does he think?
These are the questions any of you should ask, by the way.' As in Pamuk's
impressive historical mystery 'My Name Is Red', a writer named Orhan works
his way into 'Snow'. For Pamuk this solves problems of representation and
honesty; like his creator, Ka is Westernised, from a middle-class Istanbul
upbringing, and both visited Kars posing as journalists (Ka is there to
investigate a suicide epidemic among young women, based on recent
real-life events in south-eastern Turkey), where both were followed by the
police. As Ka treads the streets from one assignation to another, you
could create a map of Kars from Pamuk's description, including vignettes
about its inhabitants. When a Kars youth is asked what he would tell
Westerners if he was given the chance, the answer comes: 'We're not
stupid! We 're just poor!' It is avery beautiful book; each chapter reads
like a short story, an idea that catchesPamuk's imagination. 'I wish I
could do that: a serialised novel, like nineteenthcentury authors like
Dickens or Dostoyevsky. Then I wouldn't be worrying about the beauty of
the whole project, which is a bit pretentious somehow, miraculously, it
will take care of itself. Writing in instalments wouldsave my soul in a
way.' And then there is the snow ('Snow' in Turkish is 'Kar'),which works
its way into Ka's psyche and his poems, occurs at crucial moments of'My
Name Is Red' and seems to enfold the new book like Ka's characteristic
'charcoal-grey coat bought at Kaufhof'. ' Snow was one of the delights of
childhood, as most children know. On the other hand it is also for me a
very picturesque thing, which I don't want to abuse.
Perhaps it is related to the fact that I wanted to be a painter and
everything looks softer, miraculously beautiful, after it snows in my
corner of the world.
Since it is such an event it pulls people together; the feeling of
community, feeling of family and solidarity is stronger after a lovely
'Snow' is published by Faber at GBP 12.99.
LOAD-DATE: May 19, 2004
Financial Times (London, England)
May 22, 2004 Saturday
Cold realities Like "a pistol-shot in the middle of a concert",
politics are tackled head-on in this devastating parable
By ANGEL QUINTANA-GURRIA
by Orhan Pamuk
translated by Maureen Freely
Faber Pounds 16.99, 436 pages
An urgent question seethes at the heart of Orhan Pamuk's latest novel:
"Can the West endure any democracy achieved by enemies who in no way
resemble them?" Judging by the Turkish author's devastating parable of
political extremism, the answer is no.
Snow is Pamuk's seventh novel, and the fifth to be translated into
English. Its narrator is Orhan, familiar to readers of Pamuk's The Black
Book. Orhan tells the story of his friend Ka, a poet returning to Turkey
after 12 years of exile in Germany. For reasons both professional and
personal, Ka travels to the remote town of Kars near Turkey's eastern
border. He arrives on the eve of mayoral elections, sent by an Istanbul
newspaper to investigate an "epidemic" of young women's suicides.
Secretly, Ka is also hoping to find Ipek, a woman he knew in his youth and
whose beauty he has cherished ever since.
When heavy snowfall cuts off all routes to Kars, isolating the town for
three days, Ka feels "as if he were in a place that the whole world had
forgotten". As he goes about his journalistic business in this confined
microcosm, he uncovers a hotbed of intolerance and radical politics
fuelled on all sides by fear.
He can draw no easy conclusions within a culture in which women kill
themselves in defence of their religion, but are shunned by their
relatives for committing sinful suicide. Although Ka is at ease among the
town's secular elite, he discovers that his host's daughter - Ipek's
sister - is leading a group of girls demanding the right to wear
headscarves. Ipek's ex-husband, once a westernised poet who has since
embraced political Islam, is the candidate most likely to succeed in the
Nor are Ka's beliefs as unshakeable as he thinks: a declared atheist,
he soon meets and sympathises with "the infamous Islamist terrorist" Blue.
And yet he worries like many others "that the Westernised world he had
known as a child in Istanbul was coming to an end". The spectre of Iran's
ayatollahs looms large over the secularists' nightmare.
"What's more important, a decree from Ankara or a decree from God?"
asks a zealous Islamist. While Ka merely ponders the question, other
characters are prepared to act on what they assume is the correct answer.
Faced by the prospect of an Islamist victory at the polls, a theatrical
troupe devoted to the modernising mission of Ataturk, founder of the
Turkish Republic, takes advantage of Kars' isolation to stage a deadly
coup, brazenly exposing the limits of the democratic principle that
modernisers claim to embrace.
In the discord that follows, Pamuk heeds all sides. Atheists are chided
for relying on the army. Islamists are reminded that they can pray to
their heart's content only because "godless" modernisers are running the
A radical secularist expresses scorn for moderates like Ka, expecting
democracy and human rights while "buttering up" Islamic fundamentalists.
A self-proclaimed "communist, modernising, secular, democratic patriot"
joins forces with Islamists and Nationalist Kurds to protest against the
coup, but is soon persuaded that "the army is right to want to keep them
out of politics. They're the dregs of society, the most wretched, muddled,
brainless people in the city." Caught in the thick of events, Ka's only
wish is to flee with Ipek.
Upon meeting the narrator after the tale's tragic denouement, an
acquaintance of Ka pleads: "If you write a book set in Kars and put me in
it, I'd like to tell your readers not to believe anything you say about
me... No one could understand us from so far away." This is the type of
playfully self-referential twist that has garnered Pamuk well-deserved
comparisons to Borges, Calvino and Kafka. One might add Auster, Saramago
and Sebald to the list.
As in The White Castle and My Name is Red, Pamuk elegantly dissects the
recurrent quandary in Turkish history - look westwards, or inwards and
If Snow is less subtle than its predecessors, if it is often didactic
and occasionally strident, it is only because its subject matter is more
Never one to flinch from the weighty issues of Turkey's past and
present, Pamuk is here at his most political yet. And, as one of the
book's epigraphs reminds us, "politics in a literary work are a
pistol-shot in the middle of a concert... We are about to speak of very
LOAD-DATE: May 21, 2004
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH(LONDON)
May 22, 2004, Saturday
Alone in Turkey Tom Payne praises a brave novel that makes us question
by Tom Payne
In 2001, an extraordinary book called My Name Is Red appeared in English.
It's impossible to recommend it without sounding eccentric - you try
urging a friend to read a Turkish novel, brimming with stories within
stories and Koranic dialectic, about murderous miniaturists working in the
court of Sultan Murat III in 1591. The novel is set around the 1,000th
anniversary of Mohammed's journey from Mecca to Medina, when Islamic
reformers were railing against artists in Istanbul. Its opening chapter is
a monologue about a corpse, and the story takes in points of view from
other perspectives: Satan says his piece, as does a horse, Death, a coin
and the colour red.
Its translation brought its author, Orhan Pamuk, greater fame in the
West, and, for all the book's violence, it could almost be read for
entertainment. The book showed Pamuk could do everything - jokes, horror,
plot, structure, erudition, love.
In Snow, Pamuk uses his powers to show us the critical dilemmas of
modern Turkey. How European a country is it? How can it respond to
fundamentalist Islam? And how can an artist deal with these issues?
The novel is set in Kars, in the far east of Turkey, close to Armenia -
the Turkish massacre of Armenians in 1908 remains in the characters'
minds. For the three days of the story's main action, the town is cut off
by snow, so, when a coup takes place, the world cannot intervene. The
local paper, the Border City News, has a circulation of 320, and prints
news before it happens. The residents watch TV constantly, even when
there's nothing on, and most are paid to spy on one another. There is a
high rate of suicide among the town's young women.
Ka, a poet, wants to know why. Some say it's because the women are
beaten at home; others say they are protesting because they can't wear
headscarves in school. "Why did your daughter decide to uncover herself?"
an Islamist asks Kars 's director of education, before shooting him. "Does
she want to become a film star?" The Islamists don't know what to make of
the suicides, since the Koran forbids the faithful to take their own
Throughout the book, Ka stops to write poetry (mostly taken from the
dialogue around him). He asks a woman he loves, "Do you think it's
beautiful?... What's beautiful about it?" As a writer, Ka is at odds with
the intrigues and fear around him. He is often blissfully happy, and we
learn that one poem's theme is "the poet's ability to shut off part of his
mind even while the world is in turmoil. But this meant that a poet had no
more connection to the present than a ghost did. Such was the price a poet
had to pay for his art!"
And yet the artists in the story are lethally relevant. When the coup
comes, it comes on the stage of a theatre; even as members of the audience
are being killed, people mistake the events for a fantastic illusion. For
a while, Kars is run by an ageing actor who regrets that he's never played
Ataturk. Even Ka, who is mistrusted for being too Western, becomes
integral to the action.
At one point, Ka reflects on the writers he's known who have been
lynched by Islamists, and it's a reminder that writing Snow has been an
act of bravery, too. It's an unexpected sort of bravery, though, because
Pamuk has made great efforts to enter the Islamists' heads. The effect is
like meeting the possessed anarchists in Dostoevsky - these alternative
views of the world find full expression, and make us question our own.
If Pamuk wrote about real situations and tried to find sympathy with
true terrorists, more readers would be alarmed than already have been. But
he tailors the terrorists to his requirements - the most seductive of
them, Blue, hasn't killed anybody and dotes on puppies.
The author's high artistry and fierce politics take our minds further
into the age's crisis than any commentator could, and convince us of every
character 's intensity, making Snow a vital book in both senses of the
word. Orhan Pamuk is the sort of writer for whom the Nobel Prize was
Snow by Orhan Pamuk tr by Maureen Freely
436pp, Faber & Faber, pounds 16.99
T pounds 14.99 (plus pounds 2.25 p&p) 0870 1557222
LOAD-DATE: May 22, 2004
Independent on Sunday (London)
May 23, 2004, Sunday
BOOKS: HUNT THE LUSTY FUNDAMENTALIST;
A FAST-MOVING TURKISH FARCE DELIGHTS STEPHEN O'SHEA WITH ITS
STEPHEN O'SHEA Snow on the shores of the Bosphorus near Turkey's Ortakoy
mosque MURAD SEZER/AP
It comes as a surprise that political prescience should be yet another
of the many gifts of Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk. Praised as a virtuoso
of the postmodern highwire - in the company of Borges, Calvino and Eco -
Pamuk has delivered intellectual delights without bothering his readers
too much about the times in which they live. My Name is Red, the Impac
winner depicting a 16th-century aesthetic feud among Ottoman miniaturists,
was hailed as a work of idiosyncratic genius, as was The White Castle,
which involves a Muslim master and a Christian slave switching identities.
Now, with Snow, composed before 11 September 2001, Pamuk gives convincing
proof that the solitary artist is a better bellwether than any televised
Set in easternmost Anatolia in the 1990s, the novel deals with the
present- day shouting-match between East and West - a subject that is
second nature to any native of Istanbul like Pamuk. A meeting of Noises
Off and The Clash of Civilisations, the work is a melancholy farce full of
rabbit- out-of-a-hat plot twists that, despite its locale, looks uncannily
like the magic lantern show of misfire, denial and pratfall that appears
daily in our newspapers. How could Pamuk have foreseen this at his writing
desk four years ago? Even the beatings and humiliations seem familiar.
The show takes place during three eventful February days in Kars, a
shivering has-been of a town hard by the border with Armenia. A snowstorm
has cut off the place, prompting an itinerant theatrical troupe to stage a
coup in the name of old-fashioned Kemalist secular values. Their leader, a
thoughtful drunk whose fame rests in his resemblance to Ataturk, is
concerned about militant Islamists and Kurdish separatists in Kars, as
well as a rash of suicides among the city's pious headscarf-wearing girls.
Enter Ka, a poet returned from exile in Germany, to report on the suicides
for an article to appear in "Republic" (ie Cumhurriyet), a leading
Istanbul newspaper read by Westernised "white Turks" like himself.
What Ka finds, as the snow settles on streets lined with dilapidated
Tsarist-era mansions, is a city of articulate rage. Angry at being poor,
provincial and despised by the godless, the townsfolk confront Ka and
disabuse him of his reflexive feelings of superiority, the most memorable
harangues spouted by a youth with dreams of becoming "the world's first
Islamist science-fiction writer". The Western newcomer, who has spent the
past 20 years not writing poetry, masturbating, and collecting political
refugee cheques in Frankfurt, is enchanted at finding himself stuck in a
tendentious backwater straight out of Turgenev and Dostoevsky, to whom he
refers liberally. Ka's muse returns and his libido revives.
At his hotel, run by an old socialist with two beautiful daughters,
the inevitable boulevardier complications arise, one of the love triangles
pitting the atheist poet against a lusty fundamentalist. Ka goes out
repeatedly to meet this hunted Islamist mastermind - who came to national
attention over the murder of a game-show host - to negotiate matters
political, sentimental, and, in the end, theatrical: whether one of the
inn-keeper's daughters will remove her headscarf on stage. As the
intrigues mount and become ever more deadly before the final betrayal,
Pamuk gives us a florid wink by letting his characters take a break every
afternoon to watch a Mexican soap opera on television.
In Turkey, the novel was criticised for its use of caricatures. Not
those of the foolish pasha of tired European travel writing, but the Turk-
on-Turk variety: the spent leftist, the brainless policeman, the head-
scarf passionaria, the miserable Anatolian. True, Pamuk trades on
stereotypes. But the strength of Snow lies in its failings. The less
believable the characters, the more true-to-life they appear. It is to
Pamuk's credit that he saw this sad farce coming before the rest of us.
Stephen O'Shea is the author of The Perfect Heresy' (Profile). His
book on Islam and Christianity in the medieval Mediterranean world will
appear next year
LOAD-DATE: May 23, 2004
The Jerusalem Post
May 28, 2004, Friday
The voice from Istanbul
As Turkey's leading novelist, Orhan Pamuk reluctantly straddles the
divide between East and West. Box at end of text
When the five-year-old Orhan Pamuk's parents went off on a
reconciliation trip to Paris, he was sent to stay with an aunt who lived
in another part of Istanbul. The aunt and her husband treated him nicely,
and showed him a European picture of a wide-eyed child who resembled him.
"This is you," they would say jokingly, pointing repeatedly at the
picture of the little boy staring out from under a cap. It was during this
period that he began entertaining the idea he would write about years
later: Somewhere in the city, he came to believe, there lived another boy
just like himself. When he was unhappy, he was convinced the other Orhan
was undoubtedly having a better time. Walking through the streets, he
would stare into unfamiliar houses, wondering whether any of them was
where the other Orhan lived. Over the years, this imaginary twin became
such an important part of his life he felt he could never leave the city
without forsaking his double.
"Except for three years spent in New York, I've lived on the same
street and in the same family apartment building for the past 50 years,"
the 52-year-old Pamuk told me when I visited him earlier this month at the
Istanbul apartment he uses as an office.
Today, Pamuk is considered to be Turkey's leading novelist. His
features, however, still reveal the timid, bookish child he once was, so
that people familiar with his photographs are always surprised at how tall
he is when they encounter him in person. His manner is at once boyish and
Pamuk tells the story of his childhood double in the first chapter of
his latest book, Istanbul, which was published in Turkey earlier this year
and combines memories and essays about the city. And although he
eventually relinquished his childhood fantasy of an identical counterpart,
over the past two decades Pamuk has made the relationship between
self-knowledge and knowledge of the other into the leitmotif of his work.
One can only truly become oneself, his narratives insist, by becoming
another - and this process of becoming takes place, more than anywhere
else, through the act of telling stories.
PAMUK'S SPACIOUS, book-lined office is directly above the Jihangir
Mosque, situated on the hillside sloping down to the European bank of the
Bosphorus. His secularly minded mother, who gave him the money for the
apartment as a gift, deeply disapproved of his choice because of the
minarets sticking up right in front of the building like two exclamation
points after the word "religion."
Foreign journalists, however, love to describe the view the minarets
frame. Seagulls flutter picturesquely over the ferries and small yachts
dot the water at the confluence of the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn, and the
Sea of Marmara, separating the city's European coast from its Asian one.
Like Pamuk himself, the view can symbolize, for those interested in such
metaphors, a vision both reassuring and alluring, of the opposing East and
Pamuk, however, is less than happy with this image. Sitting across
from me on a low couch in a button-down shirt and dark cotton pants, his
body arches forward like an oversize question mark.
"What I've written about is not the clash of civilizations or the
conflict between East and West," he told me. "I hate both the concept and
the reality of a Muslim world clashing with the West. What I've been
interested in writing about is what you would call in sociological terms
'cultural change,' or in psychological, more personal terms 'problems of
"Thirty years ago, this used to be only Turkey's problem. Now it has
become the world's fashionable problem, and I don't like it when
journalists turn to me because they want Islamic fundamentalism to be
quickly explained to them by a mellow, civilized Turk like myself, who can
understand the so-called 'primitives ' and act as a go- between."
Pamuk, who defines himself as "a Western writer working in a
semi-non-Western cultural climate," grew up in a secular, wealthy Istanbul
home. He and his older brother, Shevket, attended the city's American
school. Pamuk's father, who died last year, was the son of a successful
industrialist who filled journals with existential quandaries and accounts
of his Parisian love affairs, translated the modernist French poet Paul
Valery into Turkish, and - together with Pamuk's uncle - squandered the
family fortune. He also cultivated a good library, in which his son
acquired what he describes as "an immense passion to devote my life to
books and literature."
His literary heroes include both Proust and Montaigne, both of whom he
loves and identifies with for the same reason.
"They were both," he explained to me, "wealthy men who didn't need to
work and were surrounded by lots of books, which they could read and then
come back and write. It's a tough position to develop in Turkey, because
people here are so political and don't want to accept this way of life,
which I eventually made them accept."
As a result, Pamuk has accumulated a vast amount of literary
"You can tell from reading his books that he has almost literally
locked himself up in a room all his life," Nuket Esen, a professor of
modern Turkish literature at Bosphorus University, told me when I met her
in a cafe around the corner from Pamuk's apartment.
"He read and read and read, and all of a sudden he began writing and
writing and writing."
Pamuk's first novel, Cevdet Bey and His Sons, which he wrote when he
was 26, was a traditional family novel. It took some time to get
published, and finally appeared in 1982.
"As soon as I finished it," Pamuk told me, flashing a smile, "I
immediately felt it was old-fashioned."
Over the next two years, he published two more books in quick
succession, in each of them very consciously adapting a particular
literary form. In The House of Silence, which appeared in 1983 and has not
been translated into English, the narrative explodes into polyphony, as
each chapter is recounted through the consciousness of a different
protagonist. The novel, which unfolds against the political events of the
late 1970s in Turkey, takes place in a dilapidated seaside house inhabited
by an old woman, the dwarf who takes care of her, and the three
grandchildren who come to visit. The history of the family, which
parallels the history of modern Turkey, probes the vicissitudes of
Westernization on both the personal and the collective level.
Pamuk has a penchant for what literary critics call "intertextuality"
- referring within his work not only to the texts of other writers, but to
his own earlier novels. His third book, The White Castle, which was
published in 1985, begins with a prologue written by an alcoholic
historian who is one of the protagonists of The House of Silence. The bulk
of the novel is a historical doppelganger story, in which East and West
come face to face when an Italian student is overtaken at sea and sold as
a slave to a Muslim scholar in 17th-century Istanbul (the two turn out to
be spitting images of one another).
IN 1982, Pamuk married Aylin Turegen, and the two set off for the
United States, where Turegen would pursue her doctoral studies at Columbia
University. Living in New York, he told me, was a welcome change from the
Istanbul of the 1970s and 1980s, where "everything was very political. You
had to immerse yourself in one of these local problems - fundamentalism,
nationalism, militarism, communism. I identified with authors like James
Joyce, moving from the margins of Western culture to its center, enjoying
its cultural openness and wealth while still in the back of their minds
worrying about the little world they left behind."
Pamuk received a small study at the university's Butler Library, where
he began writing parts of what would become The Black Book, apologizing
profusely to the young lovers he stumbled upon as he made his way down the
long hallway to continue writing at night. That was also the period when,
having discovered Borges and Calvino, Pamuk found a way of looking back at
the Islamic literary heritage from a postmodern, secular point of view,
picking up literary tricks and at the same time becoming aware of the
power of those texts. In doing so, he had broken completely with the
realism and political themes of other Turkish novelists.
The Black Book, which remains perhaps Pamuk's most dazzling literary
achievement to date, was published in Turkey in 1990. It takes place over
the course of one snowy week in Istanbul, when a young lawyer by the name
of Galip discovers that his wife Ruya has disappeared and sets out on a
quest to find her, which takes him through the city's streets and
underground passages. When he begins to suspect that Ruya's disappearance
is related to the sudden absence of her half-brother, the famed columnist
Djelal, Galip begins impersonating the latter and writing his daily
newspaper columns. His search for the two becomes a search for his own
identity and for the identity of Istanbul, which remains forever
It was the Istanbul of The Black Book that I had wanted Pamuk to show
me as we got out of a cab near Divan Yolu, once the main thoroughfare of
the Byzantine and Ottoman city. We headed west into the booksellers'
bazaar, then continued north through the gardens and arcade courtyard of
the Suleymaniye Mosque, heading further west across Ataturk Boulevard and
uphill into the narrow, winding streets of Fatih, one of the most
religiously conservative neighborhoods in Istanbul, where women carefully
cover themselves with head scarves or black chadors.
These streets, with their dilapidated wooden houses, are where Pamuk
would wander about when he was enrolled at the nearby School of Journalism
to avoid the military draft. We stopped in at an old tiled shop for drinks
made of fermented wheat. The silver glass holder from which Ataturk,
founder of the Turkish republic, is said to have drunk was enshrined on
the wall in a specially made reliquary.
Pamuk, by his own definition, was a bookish, somewhat timid boy, who
left his house only to occasionally go on long walks throughout the city.
"In the late Sixties and Seventies," Pamuk told me as we scattered
nuts onto the surface of our frothy, cinnamon- flavored drinks, "I walked
endlessly in Istanbul. I was moody and angry, and my walks were these
furious young man's 'one day I'm going to do something big' kind of
Like Galip, who is overcome at times by the strange sensation that the
entire city is pervaded by a system of signs which speak to him alone, and
which are embedded in the most banal of everyday objects - the titles of
volumes at the booksellers' bazaar, neon street signs, bric-a-brac offered
for sale at the street vendors' stalls - Pamuk would carefully comb
secondhand stores and bookshops, and would return home with a host of
acquired objects: Russian or old Ottoman coins, marbles, ashtrays,
lighters, cigarette holders. Then he would carry them with him for a
while, until they disappeared.
Large parts of The Black Book are set in Nisantas, the modern
residential neighborhood in which Pamuk grew up. Today, it has evolved
into an upscale shopping district, in which fashion designers have
replaced the old neighborhood merchants. The store once selling fresh eggs
and dairy products is now a shoe store. The mansion garden that used to
abut his school courtyard is now a small public park. Pamuk and his wife
have been separated now for several years. Their daughter, who was born in
1991, is called Ruya, after Galip's wife in The Black Book.
The small shop owned by Aladin - a small, bespectacled man whom Pamuk
has known since they were both children - is one of the few still points
in this changing neighborhood. Aladin, who has never read any of Pamuk's
books, is proud of his new status as a pilgrimage site to some of the
writer's foreign fans.
"Will you keep promoting me in your next book, sir?" he asked
hopefully after The Black Book came out. In the center of the display
window, standing back to back with a new translation of a Danielle Steel
novel and just above a set of toy pistols, is a black-and-white picture of
the smiling young Orhan on the cover of the only remaining copy of
PAMUK IS a well-known media personality in Turkey, and people ranging
from a hip passerby on his own street to the owner of a run-down shop
bordering an abandoned church near the Golden Horn recognize him.
Notwithstanding his high degree of intellectual sophistication, he is the
first Turkish writer to become a best-seller in the Western sense.
Andy Finkel, an American journalist based in Turkey who attended the
same school as Pamuk, describes him as "nice and at the same time terribly
controlled and disciplined, good at knowing what he wants to be and
hanging on to that in a country where people do all they can to put you
Those who dislike Pamuk seem to be bothered not only by the fanfare
that surrounds the publication of his books, but also by the fact that in
Turkey, respected novelists have always spent some time in prison - a
not-insignificant point in some left-wing circles.
According to Maureen Freely, the novelist and journalist who has just
translated his most recent novel, Snow, into English, Pamuk's large
following in Turkey is mostly made up of members of the younger
generation. Nevertheless, she told me, when he appeared in London several
years ago, "Everybody mentioned in Snow - the PKK, the secret police, the
ambassadors, they were all there because they're obsessed with him.
Looking at them, I realized what conflicting emotions he arouses in people
- fascination, fear, mistrust."
The Black Book was followed by The New Life, which appeared in 1994
and continued the theme of searching out mystical shards of illumination
in the everyday. In it, a young man infatuated with a book he reads
abandons his life in Istanbul and embarks on a series of ghostly,
disturbing bus trips between provincial towns.
"What remains unchanged in all his books beginning with The White
Castle," Jale Parla, a professor of modern Turkish literature at Istanbul
Bigli University, told me, "is a mood of terrible isolation. The major
characters all know something is wrong, but what they think is wrong is
not really what's wrong. They are going around enveloped in this isolated
capsule, finding ways out of it like a caterpillar poking through the
cocoon. But they poke at the wrong points all the time. It's a very ironic
quest, which is comic at times and tragicomic at others. It's the only
continuity in the work of an author who is constantly experimenting with
new forms of representation."
While The New Life, like The Black Book, received rave reviews when it
appeared in English, it was only with the publication of My Name is Red,
which came out in English in 2001, that Pamuk became more widely known to
A historical novel set in the Ottoman court, it revolves around the
murders of two of the Sultan's miniaturists and deals with the battle
between Eastern and Western models of representation and the opposing
worldviews they stood for.
My Name is Red came out in the US in the first week of September 2001.
In it, Pamuk had written about problems that he has been preoccupied with
for many years, but in the wake of September 11, they suddenly seemed to
take on a new relevance.
"Today," Pamuk told me, leaning against his terrace balcony the day
after we first met, "I am much more optimistic about the future of Turkey
than I was several years ago. It is in the process of stabilizing, and I
hope this stability continues and that other countries learn from Turkey's
example that Islam and democracy aren't contradictory, and that you can
develop civil society in an Islamic country. I don't want my part of the
world fighting with West. I have my foot in both parts, and I want them to
be at peace with one another because I want to survive."
(BOX) The accidental dissident
Snow, which has just appeared in England, is due out in the US this
August. It is Pamuk's sixth novel, and the first one to make contemporary
Turkish politics its direct subject. The year is 1992 when Ka, a Turkish
poet and political exile, travels to the eastern city of Kars, on the
Armenian border, to report on forthcoming municipal elections and a series
of mysterious female suicides for an Istanbul newspaper. When a blizzard
temporarily cuts off communication with the rest of the world, Ka finds
himself caught in the midst of religious and political conspiracies that
culminate in a military coup staged by a theatrical troupe.
The snowed-in city becomes, in this political thriller, a microcosm of
the entire country.
Pamuk had previously refrained from writing on overtly political
subjects because of what he perceives to be the destructive effect that
political over-involvement has had on the previous generation of Turkish
writers. After winning international recognition, however, he began
signing petitions regarding the war against the Kurdish guerrillas and the
Turkish state's violations of human rights and freedom of expression. He
went on to write articles on these subjects for the foreign press, which
were angrily discussed in Turkish newspapers, and within a decade became a
political figure in spite of himself.
"I finally decided to go ahead and write one political novel so I
could get it off my chest," he told me. Like Ka, the protagonist of his
novel, Pamuk arrived in Kars carrying a press card from a major Turkish
newspaper, and used the pretext of researching an article to travel back
and forth to Kars over a period of four years.
"It snows so much there," he said, "and I love snow. But I also felt
this depressing loneliness there, this kind of misery born from the
horrifying absence of a future. There was a real epidemic of girls
committing suicide at the time, but that happened in Batman, another
Kurdish town 200 kilometers south of Kars that is a bastion of Turkish
fundamentalism. It made the national and international news, and it's
still a mystery to me why they committed suicide."
MAUREEN FREELY, an American journalist and novelist who grew up in
Istanbul and has known Pamuk since childhood, took it upon herself to
translate Snow into English.
"It's a kind of endgame, a three-day version of Turkish politics," she
told me, speaking on the phone from her home in Bath, England.
"It's all there - the succession of military coups and people pulled
into prison and spewed out many years of torture later. And apart from a
few people who keep the records, it's just denied and denied and denied."
Freely was translating Snow when Chechen rebels took over the musical
comedy theater in Moscow.
"What I saw on tape was disturbingly close to what Pamuk had written
about in his novel, with people marching on stage and nobody knowing what
to make of them," she said.
Although his novel pushes Turkish politics to a level of absurdity,
Pamuk, according to Freely, wrote accurately about "a society held
together by violence, in which the people in power have the ability to
make people who have been violently treated collude with the violence and
refrain from talking about it. In Pamuk's novel, that silence takes the
form of the falling snow that is present throughout the book. By the time
the book comes to an end, the city decides the coup has never taken
It is no accident, according to Freely, that Pamuk set the novel in a
formerly Armenian city, whose history can still only be written about in
Turkey by way of insinuation.
The day before I called her, Freely told me she had been speaking to a
Turkish friend who said that Snow made her feel depressed and sad about
"Strangely," Freely said, "sitting and translating the book in Bath,
England, I just wanted to travel to Kars. Despite my political concerns
about Turkey, it appealed to me because of the human warmth that Pamuk
evokes. There's this tiny detail at the end of the novel when it turns out
that the Kurdish maid at the local hotel is still giving soup to the
detective. They are simultaneously turning each other in and feeding each
other - like a big, warm, treacherous family."
Pamuk's international reputation has come to protect him against a
government crackdown, but even so his publishers were somewhat worried
when Snow was due to come out in Turkey. Pamuk is against militarism and
fundamentalism of any kind. While Kemalists felt he was being too
pro-Islam, Islamic groups were equally displeased with Pamuk's book.
"It took my breath away to see how many types of people he chose to
insult at once," Freely told me.
"Yet although he examines how extremist groups on both poles of the
political spectrum operate within a given power structure, he is most
damning about his own generation of left-wing artists and radicals, who
have come to very absurd nothings."
"When I read it," Prof. Jale Parla of Istanbul Bigli University told
me, "I thought 'this is it, he's in trouble.' The book was simply ignored
by literary critics and intellectuals - perhaps because it is directed
very straightforwardly against the military regime and its interference
with democracy. Other novelists would still be interrogated for making
half the comments that Pamuk made."
GRAPHIC: 5 photos: The iconoclast. 'Problems of identity used to be only
Turkey 's problem; now they're the world's. 'Life in Istanbul. Personal
history often parallels national history in Pamuk's work. Street scene. At
a certain point, Pamuk broke with the realism and political themes of
other Turkish novelists. Pamuk's view. He defines himself as 'a Western
writer working in a semi-non -Western cultural climate.' A traditional
neighborhood in Istanbul. 'I am much more optimistic about the future of
Turkey than I was several years ago.' (Credit: Sinan Akyuz)
LOAD-DATE: June 9, 2004
The Times (London)
May 29, 2004, Saturday
What lies beneath
SNOW. BY ORHAN PAMUK. Faber. £16.99; 436pp. ISBN 0 571 21830 X. Pounds
13.59 (p&p £2.25). 0870 1608080
Turkey's most acclaimed novelist begins Snow (translated by Maureen
Freely) with four epigraphs, which are as four signposts at a crossroads,
turned by a mischievous urchin, leaving the traveller unsure of the right
Their authors -Browning, Stendhal, Dostoevsky and Conrad -flag Orhan
Pamuk's immersion in Western culture. And their meanings are
kaleidoscopic, teasing us with simultaneous propositions invoking
religion, politics, and anti democratic intellectual rigour, as well as
the conflicts and contradictions that are inevitable when we look at other
cultures with Western eyes.
All these themes are played out -and with -in that ironic tragicomic
style which puts Pamuk firmly at the centre of the postmodern European
narrative which looks back to Sartre as well as Borges. Yet although his
dispassionate intelligence cannot resist toying with reader and characters
alike, this novel achieves a genuinely tragic dimension.
In 1992 a poet known as Ka returns from political exile in Germany to
visit his hometown on the Armenian border, ostensibly to report on the
forthcoming municipal elections, and also the spate of female suicides
among Muslim women who have over-enthusiastically embraced Islamicist
fervour and chosen to cover their heads in defiance of the secular state.
He is trapped in the rundown city by a blizzard, the snow of the title
becoming a metaphor for spiritual loneliness as well as the blurring of
the outlines of certainty, in life and in art.
Later we learn that Ka will be murdered four years on, and that the
narrator who embarks on a quest to establish the truth of what happened is
none other than Pamuk.
The writer has produced a novel of profound relevance to the present
moment. The core debate between the forces of secularism and those of
religious fanaticism within modern Turkey is conducted with subtle,
painful insight into the human weakness that can underlie both impulses.
LOAD-DATE: May 31, 2004
May 29, 2004
NEW FROM THE IMPAC WINNER
SnowBy Orhan Pamuk Translated by Maureen FreelyFaber & Faber, Euro
Orhan Pamuk came to international prominence when his novel My Name is Red
won the IMPAC Award in 2003. The new novel Snow has proved to be
controversial in his native Turkey (he currently lives in Istanbul) where
it has sold over100,000 copies.
A poet and political exile who prefers to be known as Ka, returns from
Frankfurt toIstanbul after 12 years to attend his mother's funeral. He
decides to extend his stay inTurkey by revisiting the city of Kars near
the mountainous border with Armenia, a city he had not been to for 20
years. He procures a valid press card and sets off on a three-dayjourney
by bus. He arrives in Kars just ahead of road closures caused by
blizzards. His ostensible reason for being there is to report on the
"suicide epidemic" that has struckheadscarf-wearing young Muslim girls in
the city and on the upcoming municipal electionsthat seem set to be won by
Just after his arrival, as access to the city is blocked, a coup is
carried out by a loose combine of soldiers, secret police and a theatre
company. The object of the coup is,apparently, to block the political
progress of the Muslimist factions - of which there arequite a few.
In the midst of this turmoil, mayhem and generalised murderousness, Ka,
a withdrawnpoet with a small reputation, finds love and confusion as well
as 19 poems that 'come' to him like the ineluctable descent of snowflakes.
Pamuk frames his narrative by inserting himself into the novel as he
researches Ka's timein Kars, reconstructing the events by reference to the
poet 's notebooks compiled after he had gone back to Germany where he
struggled to order his 'inspired' poems into asemblance of coherence and
meaningfulness. The green notebook in which he inscribed the poems
disappeared after the poet's violent death in the streets of Frankfurt
four years after his return. Thus, at a stroke, Pamuk absolves himself
from providing textualevidence for the quality of Ka's experience which is
merely claimed as disruptive and devastating.
The novel has some virtues, particularly in its presentation of the
ethnic and political fragmentation of contemporary Turkey.
The casual disclosure of institutionalised snooping and spying by
agencies running divergent agendas, the tacit acceptance of police
brutality and mindlessness, contrive to underpin the stereotype of Turkey
as a former 'frontline' state (to use a misleadingAmericanism) in dire
need of reformation.
Whatever about the virtues, the vices of the novel compromise its
readability. At too many points too many characters deliver hectoring
stump speeches that grate and impede and contribute little to the readers'
understanding. At many points the novelist's histrionicsseem to slide into
hysteria and his central character, the poet Ka, seems merely amouthpiece
for ideological concerns that are, finally, extrinsic to the book.
Gerry Dukes is MIC Research Fellow,
LOAD-DATE: May 29, 2004
The Guardian (London) - Final Edition
May 29, 2004
Saturday Review: Fiction: Frozen assets: James Buchan enjoys a poet's
vision of Anatolia, but misses the poetry: Snow by Orhan Pamuk, translated
by Maureen Freely 436pp, Faber, £16.99
Orhan Pamuk's new novel is set in the early 1990s in Kars, a remote
and dilapidated city in eastern Anatolia famed less for its mournful
relics of Armenian civilisation and Russian imperial rule than for its
spectacularly awful weather. Snow, " kar " in Turkish, falls incessantly
on the treeless plains and the castle, river and boulevards of Kars, which
the local scholars say takes its name from " karsu " (snow-water).
In this novel, the city is cut off from the world and also, to an
extent, from normal literary reality by three days of unremitting snow.
Written, the reader is told, between 1999 and 2001, Snow deals with some
of the large themes of Turkey and the Middle East: the conflict between a
secular state and Islamic government, poverty, unemployment, the veil, the
role of a modernising army, suicide and yet more suicide. Pamuk's master
here is Dostoevsky, but amid the desperate students, cafes, small
shopkeepers, gunshots and inky comedy are the trickeries familiar from
modern continental fiction. The result is large and expansive, but, even
at 436 pages, neither grand nor heavy.
Pamuk's hero is a dried-up poet named Kerim Alakusoglu, conveniently
abbreviated to Ka: Ka in kar in Kars. After many years in political exile
in Frankfurt, Ka returns to Istanbul to attend his mother's funeral. He is
then commissioned by an Istanbul newspaper to write an article about the
municipal elections in Kars and investigate a succession of suicides by
women and girls in the city. In his role as journalist, Ka trudges through
the snow interviewing the families of the girls. He learns that they are
committing suicide because of pressure by the college authorities to take
off their headscarves in class. (Compulsory unveiling succeeds just as
well as compulsory veiling, which is not very well.)
It soon emerges that Ka is not greatly interested in headscarves but
has come to fall in love with his old Istanbul schoolmate, Ipek, who has
ended up in Kars and is separated from her husband. Meanwhile, his lyric
gift returns to him with a force bordering on incontinence, and he is
forever plunging into tea houses to get his latest poem down in a green
notebook. Another narrator, called Orhan Pamuk, tells the story not from
the notebook, which is lost or stolen, but from notes in Ka's handwriting
that he finds four years later in the poet's flat in Frankfurt.
The book is full of winning characters, from Ka himself to Blue, a
handsome Islamist terrorist with the gift of the gab, an actor-manager and
his wife who tour small Anatolian towns staging revolutionary plays and
coups de main , and Serdar Bey, the local newspaper editor, who has a
habit of writing up events and running them off his ancient presses before
they occur. There are many fine scenes, including one where a hidden tape
records the last conversation between a college professor in a bakery and
his Islamist assassin.
Yet there are literary judgments that some readers will question. The
first is to omit Ka's poems. The green book has been lost or stolen and
what remain are Ka's notes on how he came to write his 19 poems in Kars
and how they might be arranged on the crystalline model of a snowflake.
That is quite as dull as it sounds: really, in a book so expansive and
light, the only dull passages. Incidentally, what verse there is in the
book, copied from the wall of the tea-shop, is worth reading. One senses
that Ka is a poet visiting Kars because the poet Pushkin visited Kars (on
June 12 and 13 1829).
Pamuk also decides to stage his two narrative climaxes as theatre. The
first of these, in which soldiers fire live rounds into the audience from
the stage of the National Theatre in Kars during a live television
broadcast, is a fine job of writing and translating, but the effect is the
same as with the descriptions of Ka's poems. The second literary layer
makes the matters at issue both fainter and less persuasive. Pamuk likes
to undermine and destabilise each character by introducing a degenerate
counterpart: not merely Ka/Pamuk, but Ipek and her almost-as-beautiful
sister Kadife, the two Islamist students Necib and Fazil, and so on.
This playfulness or irony may be a response to a literary dilemma. To
use a European literary form such as the novel in Turkey is, in an
important sense, to ally oneself with European notions of individualism,
liberty and democracy that even when they are upheld (rather than
breached) are meaningless to traditional Muslims. Liberty in Islam is the
liberty to be a Muslim, democracy likewise, individualism likewise.
Pamuk knows that as well as anybody and dramatises it in a raucous
scene in which a group of leftists, Kurds and Islamists gather in a hotel
room to write a letter to the Frankfurter Rundschau. He also anticipates
his critics by having Serdar Bey accuse Ka in the Border Gazette of being
so "ashamed of being a Turk that you hide your true name behind the fake,
foreign, counterfeit name of Ka". In fact, the best sentences in the book
are those entirely without any playfulness, or indeed any artistry, such
as this one, where Ka remembers the almost permanent state of military
coup d'etat of his Istanbul childhood: "As a child he'd loved those
martial days like holidays."
A more serious challenge to novelists in Turkey, Iran and the Arab
world is that the events of September 11, the Moscow theatre attack and
Abu Ghraib are both more romantic and more desperate than even Dostoevsky
could have dreamed up and written down.
James Buchan is the author of A Good Place to Die , a novel set in
modern Iran. To order Snow for £14.99 plus p&p call Guardian book service
on 0870 836 0875. Orhan Pamuk appears at the Guardian Hay Festival on
Monday May 31. See www.hayfestival.com for details.
LOAD-DATE: May 29, 2004
May 30, 2004, Sunday
A taste of Turkish despair
By DAVID ROBSON
Snow by Orhan Pamuk tr by Maureen Freely
Faber, pounds 16.99, 436 pp pounds 14.99 ( pounds 2.25 p&p) 0870 155
AT THE START of Snow, Orhan Pamuk quotes Stendhal: "Politics in a
literary work are like a pistol-shot in a concert - crude but impossible
to ignore." It is a maxim which his book neatly illustrates. Politics are
everywhere in Snow and, most of the time, they are crude and
two-dimensional. But the novel has proved impossible to ignore in Turkey,
where it has infuriated Islamists and Westernised Turks alike. Pamuk has
hitherto been an acquired taste in the West; but this sprawling,
emotionally charged story, with its flashes of black comedy, could well
secure him the readership he deserves.
The year is 1992 and the setting is Kars, a snow-bound town on the
Armenian border. Ka, the main character, is a poet and one-time political
agitator. He has come to Kars for two reasons: to track down a former
lover and to write an investigative newspaper article about a spate of
suicides among young women in the town. The suicides seem unrelated, but
Ka glimpses an emerging pattern. The women involved are Muslims and all,
in one way or another, are victims of the increasingly fierce climate in
which traditional Muslim values are being challenged and defended.
The wearing of headscarves proves the catalyst. Ka, who has spent 10
years living in Germany, knows where he stands on the issue, confessing
that he "could never feel sexually attracted to a woman in a headscarf".
Others are less flippant. The head of a college who has tried to ban
pupils from wearing head scarves gets a bullet in the head. Then a stage
revival of an old pre-war Turkish classic, My Fatherland or My Scarf,
degenerates into open mutiny, with soldiers firing on crowds and
revolution sweeping the town.
To a Western reader, the logic of events will be as foreign as the
cock-fights which seem to be the main after-dark entertainment in Kars.
But in the excellent, sardonic Pamuk, they have a first-rate guide to the
social tensions of provincial Turkey. The tempo of the narrative is quite
slow: think of a leisurely stroll through a bazaar rather than a mad rush
through Tesco's. But it retains its hold over the reader; and in the
endless snow-storms swirling around the town, Pamuk has found an
attractive metaphor for the muddle and obscurity in which political debate
is so often wreathed.
LOAD-DATE: May 30, 2004
May 30, 2004
Review: BOOKS: FICTION: More than a winter's tale: In this complex,
affecting novel about a poet returning from exile to Turkey, Orhan Pamuk
illuminates the many voices in his native land
SARAH EMILY MIANO
By Orhan Pamuk
Faber £16.99, pp436
'EVERY LIFE is like a snowflake,' whose forms appear identical from
afar, but are determined by any number of mysterious forces, making each
one singular. This metaphor lies at the centre of Orhan Pamuk's profound
new novel, Snow , a Dostoyevskian political thriller: 'How much can we
ever know about love and pain in another's heart? How much can we hope to
understand those who have suffered deeper anguish, greater deprivation and
more crushing disappointments than we ourselves have known?'
These questions haunt the poet Ka, who has returned to Istanbul in
1992 for his mother's funeral, after living as an exile in Frankfurt for
more than a decade. But the story begins as he travels to a Turkish border
town called Kars on a journalistic assignment from the secularist
newspaper the Republican , to cover the municipal elections and an
apparent suicide epidemic among the Muslim women there. Ka is disheartened
by the changes he has seen in Istanbul, and hopes to recapture his
childhood farther afield, but with an ulterior motive: he has heard that a
former classmate, the beautiful Ipek, has separated from her husband, and
he wants to win her heart. This novel is as much about love as it is about
In Kars, a blizzard shuts down the roads; the city can only hint of
the old days in 'sad postcard memories'- empty squares, decrepit Russian
and Armenian buildings; it seems like 'the end of the world'. He stays at
the Snow Palace Hotel where Ipek lives with her father and sister, and
manages to weave his way into their lives with its compulsive TV-viewing,
religious disagreements and political entanglements. As he investigates
the suicides of the 'headscarf girls ' he has fascinating encounters with
the women's families, the editor of the newspaper, the police and various
politicos. The people are divided by loyalties to the Turkish state and
the rising Islamist parties, by religion and atheism. Ka, like Pamuk
himself, is from a middle-class family in Istanbul; and as an educated,
westernised Turk, everyone considers him a non-believer; yet he sees God
in both the snow and his own poems, which come to him on a cloud of divine
During a performance in the National Theatre, when Ka recites his
first new poem in years, there is a military coup in which many pupils
from the Islamic religious high school are killed. Some believe it is a
stand against Kurdish nationalism and an attempt to keep the 'religious
fanatics' from winning the elections. But two actors have a hand in the
coup, and what begins as a staged event kicks off a terrible chain of
events: the arrest and persecution of religious leaders and Islamist
candidates, the murder of Kurds, the torture and intimidation of
schoolboys. The citizens watch the action on their television screens,
while Ka looks for happiness with Ipek, though it is always just beyond
Pamuk's protagonist is a man of melancholy and secrets in a sea of
other characters who are tossed about by uncertainties. An Islamist
student warns Ka: 'I'd like you to tell your readers not to believe
anything you say about me, anything you say about any of us. No one could
understand us from so far away.' So the players in the story, including
Ka, are cast in a shadow of indeterminacy - which makes the novel even
more compelling. Still, Pamuk manages to give voice to everyone involved:
reactionaries, terrorists, liberals, fundamentalists.
A militant Islamist tells Ka that their people have been entranced by
the West because 'we've forgotten our own stories'. Pamuk suggests that
his country can only rediscover itself through storytelling. So he makes
the call even as he answers it, with a political allegory that provides an
historical vision of his society. The account takes the form of a
meticulously constructed snowflake in which nothing is out of place, and
where revelation and concealment occur in impeccable order.
To order Snow for £14.99, plus p&p, call the Observer Books Service on
0870 836 0885
LOAD-DATE: May 31, 2004
June 1, 2004
Internationally acclaimed Turkish writer Pamuk (My Name is Red, 2001,
etc) vividly embodies and painstakingly explores the collision of Western
values with Islamic fundamentalism.
An omniscient narrator, identified only on the penultimate page, tells
the story of Kerim Alakusoglu, a 40-ish poet known as Ka who returns to
Turkey from political exile in Germany. Ka travels to the remote
provincial town of Kars in "the poorest, most overlooked corner of Turkey"
near the Armenian border, where a seemingly endless snowfall persists, a
rash of recent suicides by young women stirs political and ethnic
debate--and Kee is reunited with his beautiful former schoolmate Ipek, now
estranged from her husband. Pamuk distributes conflicting commitments to
Muslim traditions and secular, Westernized concepts in such compellingly
realized characters as Ipek's "radical" sister and sometime actress
Kadife, her "terrorist" lover Blue, Ipek's unctuous husband Mukhtar (a
mayoral candidate in Kars's upcoming municipal elections), brutal military
police official Z. Demirkol, and National Theatre luminary Sunay Zaim, who
appears to be staging his own martyrdom in an adaptation of Thomas Kyd's
The Spanish Tragedy that will feature Kadife's onstage protest against
Islam's suppression of women's rights. This richly detailed tale is in
effect a dialectic made flesh by a thrilling plot ingeniously shaped to
climax with the aforementioned theatrical production and to coincide with
the narrator's revelations of Ka's last hours in Kars, which ironically
consummate the flurry of poetic creativity released in him by his
experiences there. The novel's meanings inhere memorably in the
controlling title metaphor, which signifies cleansing, silence, sleep,
obliteration, "the beauty and mystery of creation," and the organizing
principles for Ka's late poems, the last of which he entitles "The Place
Where the World Ends."
An astonishingly complex, disturbing view of a world we owe it to
ourselves to better understand.
Publication Date: 08/22/2004
Author: Pamuk, Orhan
LOAD-DATE: May 28, 2004
The Guardian (London) - Final Edition
June 1, 2004
G2 at Hay: The A4 challenge: The task was simple: come on to the G2 bus
and fill a sheet of A4 paper. But how would the stars of Hay fare when
confronted with a blank page? Here we publish the results : Orhan Pamuk
From a very young age, I knew I was not alone: somewhere in the
streets of Istanbul, in a house resembling ours, there lived another Orhan
so much like me that he could pass for my twin, even my double. I cannot
remember where I got this idea or how it came to me. It must have risen
out of a web of rumours, misunderstandings, games and fears. But in one of
my earliest memories, it is already clear how I've come to feel about my
When I was five, I was sent for a short time to live in another house.
At the end of one of their many stormy separations, my parents arranged to
meet in Paris and it was decided that my older brother and I should stay
behind in Istanbul, in separate houses. My brother remained in the heart
of the family with our grandmother in the Pamuk Apartments, in Ni-anta.
But they sent me to stay with my aunt in Cihangir. Hanging on the wall in
this house, where I was treated with great kindness, there was a picture
of a small child. Every once in a while, my aunt or uncle would point at
the child inside the small white frame and smile, saying, "Look! That's
The sweet, doe-eyed child in the picture did look a bit like me, it's
true. He was even wearing the cap I wore sometimes when I went outside.
But I still knew I was not the boy in the picture. (In fact, it was a
kitsch reproduction of a "cute child" that someone had brought back from
Europe.) Still, I could not help wondering - was this the Orhan who lived
in that other house?
Except that now I, too, was living in another house. It was almost as
if I'd had to move here before I could meet my twin, but I was not at all
happy to make his acquaintance. I wanted to go back to my real home in the
Pamuk Apartments. Whenever they told me that I was the boy in the picture
on the wall, I'd feel my mind unravelling; my ideas about myself, my
picture, the picture that looked like me, the boy who looked like me, and
the other house would get all mixed up and all I wanted was to be at home
again, surrounded by my family. My wish came true and soon I returned to
the Pamuk Apartments. But the ghost of that other Orhan in that other
house somewhere in Istanbul never left me.
Orhan Pamuk is the author of Snow and My Name is Red.
LOAD-DATE: June 1, 2004
Courier Mail (Queensland, Australia)
June 26, 2004 Saturday
Rejoice in a read for all seasons
ART, that most fragile of human endeavours, is under threat. Besieged
by the asinine puerilities of reality television, undermined by the inane
generalisations of politicians and prostituted in pursuit of celebrity,
decent art is having a hard time.
But every time I doubt the power of human expression to meaningfully
grapple with just how complicated it is to be alive today; along comes a
work of such truth and beauty that after encountering it, I sit stunned
Orhan Pamuk's novel, Snow, is one of these works. It isn't perfect and
it isn 't especially easy. But it is magnificent.
It is an old-style novel with more than a glance to Turgenev,
Dostoevsky and Conrad. Its themes are impossibly large -- the dance of
faith and doubt, the power of the human heart, the complex relationships
between individual lives and history.
The novel's central character, Ka, is a poet who returns from exile to
an isolated border town in 1992. The town has suffered a spate of young
women committing suicide and also is the home of an astonishingly
beautiful former classmate of Ka's.
It's snowing and soon the entire town is sealed off from the outside
world. At a performance in the theatre, the stage is overtaken by
revolutionaries who fire into the audience. This heralds the start of a
Over the next three days Ka will fall hopelessly in love, play intimate
roles in people's lives and deaths and write poems which after many fallow
years suddenly come to him.
He will also talk. He will listen to all sides of politics and
religion. He will hear opinions. He will watch as a meeting of
counter-revolutionary leaders he has assembled degenerates into a farce of
informers, conversation and opinions.
He will hear a precis of an Islamic science-fiction novel and be
touched by the confessions of a young student.
The plot of Snow is, like many old-world novels, basically simple. But
the issues, the reflections, the contradictions and insights extend far
beyond the story of a poet in a snowbound and slightly crazy town.
The story is set in Turkey. Many of the debates are about the rise of
"political Islam" and its conflicts with Western "atheism" -- debates that
are now of utmost importance.
Apparently the novel inflamed both religious and non-religious Turks on
its publication, and it is easy to see why. There is a merciless honesty
in the way Pamuk portrays his characters. They are all highly articulate,
they all get their say.
Somehow the characters are simultaneously stereotypes (the inflamed
student sublimating sexual passion into religious heat) and real people.
Ka, listening to an argument, is silenced "because he agreed with
everything both men said".
There are no simple solutions. Is it poverty, ignorance, history or God
that inspires belief? Is it pride or fear or depression that causes the
In the swirl of talk, patterns emerge and refract. Every political
question has a correlative of the heart and every emotional state is
mirrored in the weather, the course of events and back in the talk.
Characters become possessed by the souls of those they have lost
(including the narrator), situations become metaphors for themselves and
even the narrator injects himself into the story as a character.
Somehow a small border town and a simple love story become totemic for
the current political situation in Iraq and beyond, for the power of art,
for the hope of, or in, humanity.
Pamuk infuses his story with a startling literary playfulness. Ka finds
himself in a town called Kars. Kar is a Turkish word for "snow". The
narrator is Pamuk, an old friend of Ka's, who almost gets dragged into
doubling Ka's life.
There are at least two of everything and difference and sameness are
locked into the dance of what Benjamin calls the primal erotic
relationship between distance and closeness.
Friends, brothers, rivals, ideological opponents and lovers are as
individually intricate as snowflakes and as impossibly dense as a
blizzard. This is Pamuk's brilliance -- his ability to break the novel as
the child of 19th-century colonisers and remake it into an absolutely
articulate medium for these troubled times.
There are weaknesses. Ka is perhaps too passive, the character of Ipek
(Ka's love interest) could be better drawn and the absence of the poems
that Ka writes during the book leave the story a little unfinished.
It is also a longish book. But there is a marvellous touch throughout.
Humour and tragedy go hand in hand. The museum commemorating the Armenian
genocide in Kars, for instance, confuses tourists because it commemorates
the Turkish victims and the Armenian perpetrators.
On the border of civilisations, snowed in, the grotesque and the
ironic become, like everything else, hopelessly entangled.
Snow is nothing short of a necessary novel for our times -- scary,
prescient, and full of humanity.
Snow, by Orhan Pamuk (Faber, $29.95)
Yaron Lifschitz is artistic director of Circa
The New Leader
July 1, 2004
The poet and the terrorists; Snow; Book Review
Snow By Orhan Pamuk Translated by Maureen Freely Knopf. 448 pp. $
THE CITY OF KARS rests on a mile-high plateau at the edge of Turkey's
mountainous northeastern frontier. A regional capital, it was a crucial
stop on the silk road for much o fits tumultuous history. During a series
of wars between the Ottoman and Russian empires in the late 19th century
it changed hands, and after World War I it became part of a short-lived
independent Armenian republic overtaken by the Bolsheviks. The arrival of
Kemal Ataturk's Army then resulted in the bloody expulsion of most of its
population, prompting the Bolsheviks to return it to Turkey as a goodwill
gesture. For a time the number of the city's residents had dwindled to
less than 10,000.
Today's poor, provincial Kars, rich in architecture left by the
various imperial powers, is the wintry setting of Orhan Pamuk's deftly
layered new novel. Written between 1999 and the end of 2001, it tells the
story of a showdown between Islamist and secular extremists vying for the
Kars is seen through the eyes of an outsider, Kerim Alakusoglu, known
as Ka, a 37-year-old poet and former radical Leftist born in Istanbul who
recently returned from more than a decade in Germany. His encounter with
the city exposes his own crisis of isolation, artistic inactivity and
spiritual lethargy. An Istanbul newspaper has sent him to investigate a
string of suicides by young women that has coincided with the banning of
headscarves at the local Institute of Education, but it is the presence of
Ipek Yildiz, an unrequited love from his student days, that has really
drawn him here. Snow is part political thriller, part love story, and its
twin plots converge with an intricate, tragic symmetry.
Pamuk, the author of six previous novels (four of them translated into
English), graduated from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, lives in Istanbul and
is by far Turkey's most renowned novelist. He has even attracted the
notice of President George W. Bush, a statesman little known for his
literary insights. Speaking before a NATO gathering in Istanbul this June,
Bush hailed Pamuk for building a "bridge between cultures" and went on to
quote the author: "What is important is not a clash of parties,
civilizations, cultures, East and West ... [but to realize] that other
peoples in other continents and civilizations [are] just like you."
Although culture clash may not be "what is important," Pamuk's work is
in fact pervaded by a doomed sense that it may be inevitable--a symptom of
the human condition that makes each side "just like" the other. He has
repeatedly explored the implications of Turkey's position at the East-West
nexus, often setting his works in the Ottoman past, as in The White Castle
(1990) and My Name is Red (2001). In the process, he has gained a
reputation as a practitioner of magic realism. The only magic at play in
his new and thoroughly contemporary book is Ka's poetry, recharged by his
reunion with Ipek and a blizzard that has sealed Kars off from the rest of
the country. The falling snow is a symbol whose value is in flux
throughout the novel. At first it grants a sense of silence and purity,
nudging the atheist toward an unfamiliar faith in God; later it comes to
seem "tiring, irritating, terrorizing."
The book's structure is a protracted reworking of Shakespearean drama,
along precisely plotted slopes of civic upheaval, romance, betrayal, and
revenge. The narrator, a friend of Ka's whose name happens to be the same
as the author's, has painstakingly recreated a handful of days down to
each conversation. Two theatrical performances that erupt in violence
punctuate Ka's visit, and threaten to exacerbate the suffering in Kars.
TELLING the story at a remove of four years, in the wake of his hero's
assassination in Germany, Pamuk explains that he has reconstructed the
events around the drafting of Ka's last, lost collection. The poems, in
the manner of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Kubla Khan," are visions that
seem to descend on Ka from an external source and must be transcribed
immediately or lost.
Tension mounts as Ka walks about Kars, interviewing people about the
suicides, wooing Ipek, and stealing away into teahouses to jot down verses
in his green notebook. The secularists he meets blame the burgeoning
fundamentalist Prosperity Party--favored in the upcoming municipal
elections--for turning innocent teenagers, including the suicide girls,
against the policies of the state and their moderate parents. "This is the
work" a journalist tells Ka, "of the international Islamist movement that
wants to turn Turkey into another Iran. " On the other side, he meets a
series of embittered, desperate men and a legion of hopeful, idealistic
youth in their thrall. These Islamists have put up posters that read,
"HUMAN BEINGS ARE GOD'S MASTERPIECES, AND SUICIDE IS BLASPHEMY"--but some
of them are not above murder.
Early on, Ka and Ipek witness the shooting of the director of the
Institute of Education. Pamuk provides a transcript of the victim's
conversation with his killer, one of several powerful, lengthy dialogues
that lend the novel its philosophical heft. The validity of the assassin's
outrage is clear. Yet just as subtly and deliberately rendered is the
psychosis, born of poverty and nourished by religious fanaticism, that has
driven him so far over the edge--or left him so vulnerable to
manipulation--that he could take a stranger's life.
The police set out to find the killer, hauling in Ka and another of
his old friends, Muhtar, the Prosperity Party's candidate for mayor, who
also happens to be Ipek's ex-husband. Ka and Muhtar had been romantic and
literary rivals at the university in Istanbul, as well as cohorts in
Leftist activism. Ka gained fame as a sort of Turkish T.S. Eliot, Muhtar
got the girl. Muhtar seems a defeated man, divorced and unpublished (his
pious poems, in "pure Turkish," are to Ka's ears laughably flat; one
senses here that Pamuk may be satirizing some of his own rivals). Muhtar
explains that his conversion was an escape from drunken despair. Watching
the police torture him, Ka senses that his old nemesis is too ineffectual
and insufficiently cruel to have orchestrated the crime.
The real mastermind might be Sheikh Efendi, who holds court among the
city's unemployed men and its youths, or Blue, a terrorist hiding in Kars
who has taken as his mistress Ipek's sister, Kadife. A boy from the
religious high school, Necip, is infatuated with her as well and enlists
Ka to deliver a batch of love letters to her. Unlike many of the devout,
who view Ka as an "oatmeal-hearted pseudo-European liberal," Necip
approaches Ka with respect and curiosity. He asks Ka about atheism and
writing, and confesses an aspiration to move to Istanbul and become the
world's first Islamist science fiction writer. The innocence and naivete
of the teenager lead Ka to confide to him that "The snow reminds me of
The passage Ka reads from a draft of Necip's novel recycles the trope
of the double prominent in many of Pamuk's works. It seems in part a
self-parody. The boy is eager to embrace a Western phenomenon--science
fiction--but determined to do so on his own terms. A critique frequently
leveled at magic realists, especially those from outside the West, holds
that they have appropriated the form of the novel without appreciation for
its roots in the realism of Flaubert and James. They have instead produced
epics based on native folklore or pop culture. Necip's ambitions point in
that direction; Pamuk has reached further, by painting his characters
lavishly and plucking from Shakespeare and the English poets, instead of
relying on fantastic devices.
Like magic realism and science fiction, in Pamuk's scheme Islamism is
a form of escapism from the frustrations of economic hardship and
isolation, but a destructive one. Blue, the most charismatic and sinister
Islamist, hints that his anti-Western views stem from a few alienating
years spent as an immigrant worker in Germany. He toys with that grand
escapist idea, martyrdom.
A few men in Kars would like nothing better than to serve Blue his
martyrdom. Their unlikely leader is the vaudevillian Sunay Zaim, a rabid
nationalist in league with renegade secret service agents. He is bent on
stamping out political Islam in Kars, even if only for a few days. His
acting career in ruins, Sunay is terminally iii and has a death wish of
his own. During a staging of a little known 1930s Kemalist farce, My
Fatherland or My Head Scarf, Sunay's henchmen turn their guns on the
crowd. They co-opt the police, cancel the elections, and impose martial
law. This coup, capped by another play-within-the-novel, Thomas Kyd's The
Spanish Tragedy, an ur-Hamlet of sorts, is to be his swan song. And to
secure his place in history, he intends to bring a few notorious Islamists
down with him.
THE POLITICAL maelstrom gives Ka the chance to play the level-headed
hero in a town full of hotheads. But it is also a distraction from his
burgeoning love affair with Ipek. Like her younger sister, Ipek possesses
an arresting beauty that makes Ka sound as much the schoolboy as his new
friend Necip. A marriage proposal springs from his mouth early in the
novel, and she greets it, and his declarations of love, with skepticism.
Ka's pursuit of her is a shedding of the ascetic cocoon of his Frankfurt
exile. She embodies an idea of Turkey for him--Westernized yet retaining a
provincial grace--and a last chance to seize happiness in life. She is
more complex than she looks, however. Beneath her physical radiance lurk
emotional scars and potent secrets. Their inevitable revelation propels
the courtship down a calamitous course.
Ka's notebooks reveal that after the journey to Kars he began the
study of snow, "and one of his discoveries was this: Once a six-pronged
snowflake crystallizes, it takes between eight and 10 minutes for it to
fall through the sky, lose its original shape, and vanish; when with
further inquiry, he discovered that the form of each snowflake is
determined also by the temperature, the direction and strength of the
wind, the altitude of the cloud, and any number of mysterious forces, Ka
decided that snowflakes have much in common with people... Individual
existences might look identical from afar, but to understand one's own
eternally mysterious uniqueness one had only to plot the mysteries of his
or her own snowflake"
Ka's conclusions are born of poetic meditation on human problems. For
all the talk of God and politics in this novel, its real concerns are the
choices and chances that accumulate in an individual life. Pamuk has
matured beyond the obsessive doubling of his earlier work; the poet Ka and
the terrorist Blue stand at two extremes of a spectrum of sensitivity. The
rest grope for meaning and act out their notions in moments of compassion
and outbursts of cruelty.
Pamuk has mined classical tragedy and the modern thriller to construct
a somewhat outlandish plot, but these time-honed contrivances never crowd
out his characters. Every voice is sounded out, each story told with
candor, style and sympathy. Few novels these days are at once so spacious,
contemplative and laden with intrigue. Pamuk's is a rare and powerful
IAC-CREATE-DATE: September 13, 2004
LOAD-DATE: September 14, 2004
Library Journal Reviews
July 15, 2004 Thursday
Pamuk, Orhan . Knopf. Aug. 2004. c.448p. ISBN 0-375-40697-2. $26. F
Upon returning to his home in secular Turkey, a poet named Ka discovers
two things that will change his life: Ipek, the girl he loved as a child,
still lives in the city of Kars, and the community has been stunned by a
rash of suicides of zealously religious girls who refused to remove their
head scarves while in public. With an investigator's eye, Ka seeks out
information about the tragedies from all sources, eventually leading to
the man at the eye of the storm - "Blue," a charismatic Islamite who will
not let the message that these girls carried be silenced. While in Kars,
the normally reticent Ka dares to approach "happiness"; where once he
suffered terrible writer's block, his poems now flow effortlessly, and his
new-found love appears to love him back, but the figure of Blue and the
deep waters in which Ka has immersed himself threaten his promising
future. Like Pamuk's previous My Name Is Red, this story is thick with
detail concerning the country's background; it does take some time to
introduce all the characters. Once everyone is in place, however, the
novel picks up and ultimately is a worthwhile read for those interested in
a closer look at the hot topics of religion, its devout followers, and
what arises from such passions. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/04.] - Marc
Kloszewski, Indiana Free Lib., PA
LOAD-DATE: July 9, 2004
Publishers Weekly Reviews
July 19, 2004 Monday
Orhan Pamuk, trans. from the Turkish by Maureen Freely. Knopf, $26
A Turkish poet who spent 12 years as a political exile in Germany
witnesses firsthand the clash between radical Islam and Western ideals in
this enigmatically beautiful novel. Ka's reasons for visiting the small
Turkish town of Kars are twofold: curiosity about the rash of suicides by
young girls in the town and a hope to reconnect with "the beautiful Ipek,"
whom he knew as a youth. But Kars is a tangle of poverty-stricken
families, Kurdish separatists, political Islamists (including Ipek's
spirited sister Kadife) and Ka finds himself making compromises with all
in a desperate play for his own happiness. Ka encounters government
officials, idealistic students, leftist theater groups and the charismatic
and perhaps terroristic Blue while trying to convince Ipek to return to
Germany with him; each conversation pits warring ideologies against each
other and against Ka's own weary melancholy. Pamuk himself becomes an
important character, as he describes his attempts to piece together "what
really happened" in the few days his friend Ka spent in Kars, during which
snow cuts off the town from the rest of the world and a bloody coup from
an unexpected source hurtles toward a startling climax. Pamuk's sometimes
exhaustive conversations and descriptions create a stark picture of a
too-little-known part of the world, where politics, religion and even
happiness can seem alternately all-consuming and irrelevant. A detached
tone and some dogmatic abstractions make for tough reading, but Ka's
rediscovery of God and poetry in a desolate place makes the novel's
sadness profound and moving. Agent, Andrew Wylie. (Aug.)
Forecast: Pamuk's reputation - bigger outside the U.S. than in -
enjoyed a boost with 2001's My Name Is Red. This timely, thoughtful and
demanding book may see it grow further.
LOAD-DATE: July 22, 2004
The Guardian (London) - Final Edition
July 24, 2004
Saturday Review: Fiction: Into the darkness: The Impac winner, a grim tale
of torture and deprivation is still a joy to read. By Maureen Freely: This
Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar Ben Jelloun, translated by Linda
Coverdale 195pp, New Press, £14.99
On July 10 1971, 1,000 Moroccan soldiers were herded into trucks and
taken to the palace of Skhirat, where King Hassan II was celebrating his
42nd birthday. Upon arrival, their commanding officers instructed them to
find and kill him. Almost 100 guests lost their lives in the ensuing
bloodbath, but the king survived. Those deemed responsible were dispatched
to Kenitra, a prison known for its harsh conditions. However, most of
those imprisoned were unwitting and unwilling participants in the coup and
many had not fired a shot.
On a sultry August night two years later, 58 of them were again herded
into trucks and taken to the remote desert hellhole of Tazmamart; here
they were thrown into underground cells 10ft long and 5ft wide, with
ceilings so low they were unable to stand, and with just enough food and
water to keep them lingering on the edge of death for years. Each tomb had
an air vent and a tiny hole in the floor that served as the lavatory. They
were crawling with cockroaches and scorpions the men could hear but not
see. There was no medical attention, no exercise, and no light. The only
time they were allowed out was to bury one of their friends.
Thirteen years would pass before the outside world found out that
Tazmamart existed. It would take another five years of international
campaigning to shut it down. There were only 28 survivors. By 1991, most
had lost up to a foot in height. Survivors were warned not to talk to the
western press, but in Tahar Ben Jelloun the authorities have an enemy more
formidable than 1,000 foreign journalists. Novelist, essayist, critic and
poet, winner of the 1987 Prix Goncourt and the 1994 Prix Maghreb, Jelloun
was born in Fez in 1944 and emigrated to France in 1961. This Blinding
Absence of Light , for which he and his excellent translator have won this
year's Impac prize, is based on the testimony of a former inmate of
Tazmamart, and it defies any expectations you might have built up from the
story above. It refuses the well-meaning but tired and ultimately
dehumanising conventions of human rights horror journalism; it is not a
Although it unmasks the liars, killers and torturers responsible for
Tazmamart, it refuses to dwell on them. Although it is told in the first
person, it is not an autobiography. Although it is technically a novel, it
is a novel stripped, like its subject, of all life's comforts.
What we're left with is Salim's voice, a voice all the more
magnificent for being draped in darkness. Some have found echoes of
Beckett in the lucid, pared-down prose, and certainly there is something
Beckettian about his limited environment and studied hopelessness. But
that he has renounced hope for a higher purpose is clear from the opening
lines: "For a long time I searched for the black stone that cleanses the
soul of death. When I say a long time, I think of a bottomless pit, a
tunnel dug with my fingers, my teeth, in the stubborn hope of glimpsing,
if only for a minute, one infinitely lingering minute, a ray of light, a
spark that would imprint itself deep within my eye, that would stay
protected in my entrails like a secret."
This is the language of Islamic mysticism. Salim is not religious when
he arrives in Tazmamart, but his situation is the real version of the
spiritual hell that Islamic mystics describe in metaphor. He escapes from
his torments by following in their footsteps, imagining his way as far
into his mind as his slowly decaying body will allow. He knows his reverie
is over when he can smell the stench.
The narrative follows a winding and treacherous path: inspired
solitary departures end in unspeakable degradation. Horrible deaths
alternate with inspired collective efforts to stay alive. Karim becomes
the talking clock to give a shape to their endless night. Ustad sings them
verses from the Qur'an. One man recounts the plots of every film he's ever
seen, another invents games to play with imaginary cards. But do not
approach this book if you want your heart to be warmed. The most
disturbing scene comes when Salim is released to an airy room with a
comfortable bed. This is not a tribute to the human spirit, but one man's
attempt to illuminate another man's truth.
For there are two intelligences at play here - Salim's and the
author's. The voice of Tazmamart is never imprisoned by its jail. It is
free to travel anywhere, and it travels light. It makes revelations of
grave importance, but never gravely. It is, despite its dark materials, a
joy to read.
Maureen Freely is the translator of Orhan Pamuk's Snow (Faber). To
order This Blinding Absence of Light for £12.99 plus p&p call Guardian
book service on 0870 836 0875.
LOAD-DATE: July 28, 2004
A powerful novel delves deep into the head-scarf furor.
The debate over Muslim women's right to wear head scarves has lately
been making headlines in Europe, but it has raged for decades in Turkey,
where scarves are banned from schools-despite the fact that the majority
of women opt to wear them. Now the subject of a novel by Istanbul-based
author Orhan Pamuk -whose 2002 thriller, My Name Is Red, won him an
enthusiastic American audience-it's a hot wire to divisions within Turkish
society. Snow (Knopf) is set in Turkey's wintry hinterland, in the
aftermath of tragedy: a wave of suicides among teenage girls banished from
the classroom for refusing to bare their heads. The deaths shatter the
town's uneasy equilibrium: The education director is gunned down in a
cafe; a military crackdown on Islamists ensues, and a journalist who
witnessed the murder finds himself embroiled in the investigation.
Astonishingly timely as the book is, it was a real-life suicide epidemic
in southern Turkey in the early nineties that likely inspired Pamuk. A
deft melding of political intrigue and philosophy, romance and noir, his
tortuously plotted novel is forever confounding our expectations. Snow has
angered religious and secular alike in Pamuk's own country, and will no
doubt prove provocative this side of the Bosporus as well.
GRAPHIC: pop politics From George W. Bush's folksy musings on the war
against terror to the surging popularity of American Idol, no pop-culture
stone is left unturned in Sore Winners (Doubleday), John Powers's bitingly
sharp analysis of the characters that define politics in post-9/11
America. Powers infuses his examination of everything from the religious
zeal of John Ashcroft to Martha Stewart's fall from grace with a clever,
unabashedly liberal voice. He assuredly navigates the reader through both
the major (Saddam's capture) and minor (Joe Millionaire) events that
shaped our media-soaked culture over recent years, a time in which, Powers
charges, Bush cast aside Clinton-era optimism and "offered a stark vision
of life that possesses enormous visceral power."-sarah haight ; HEAD START
A pro-Islamist protest in Istanbul, May 2003. ; Reuters. Still life: JEFF
LOAD-DATE: November 16, 2004
August 1, 2004
New books; Book Review
On the next to last page of Orhan Pamuk's SNOW (Knopf, $ 26)--as if
Nabokov and Rushdie had taken their circus act on the road, of Carlos
Fuentes were Anatolian instead of Aztec, or Milan Kundera remembered how
to laugh--a young student at a Turkish religious high school admonishes a
novelist named "Orhan Pamuk": "If you write a book set in Kars and put me
in it, I'd like to tell your readers not to believe anything you say about
me, anything you say about any of us. No one could understand us from so
And yet, of course, it is this solemn boy, whose name is Fazil, and
his best friend, Necip, who is shot to death before he can publish his
science fictions, and the girls they love, who are suspended from school
for refusing to remove their head scarves--it is these passionate,
talkative, and pious young people, as pure of heart as they are
self-righteous, who monopolize our attention. In the northern city of
Kars, near the border with Armenia, God is real to them even if He is not
to the secular intellectual and blocked poet Ka--the old friend Pamuk is
supposed to be writing this book about--who has come by bus from Istanbul,
in a blizzard, to investigate an epidemic of suicides.
Yes, a poet named Ka in a city named Kars. And kar means "snow" in
Turkish. But having just returned for his mother's funeral after twelve
years of exile in Germany following the 1980 military coup, Ka is really
looking for love, roots, meaning, and his muse. Snow is not only a silence
inside, reminding him of God; it also makes him feel at home in the world.
So what if these true-believing students accuse him of atheism? So what if
the newspaper reports his behavior a day in advance, and a night at the
theater turns into Marat/Sade, and the gorgeous Ipek won't go to Frankfurt
with him? Suddenly, he is writing poems again. Indeed, poems seem to seize
or occlude him, like embolisms or a fit. He must retire immediately to a
teahouse. Meanwhile, prisoners are tortured in red and yellow rooms. A
minister of education is assassinated by a fundamentalist nut. A terrorist
fresh from Bosnia coaches disaffected students. The Party of God may win
the municipal elections. And so when the snow cuts Kars off from the rest
of the country, the army, the police, and a very Brechtian repertory
theater troupe stage a coup, a parody of 1980, that gives a whole new
meaning to politics as performance.
When they aren't watching television, everyone in Snow is telling
everyone else a story, as in The Arabian Nights or in "the way it seemed
the heroes told their stories to the authors of the European novels." This
is playful, postmodern Pamuk, the author of The White Castle and My Name
Is Red, who nods in passing at Oedipus, Robespierre, Stendhal, Mallarme,
Turgenev, Dostoevsky, and Conrad. But in its sendup of romantic poetry,
political theater, and the anthropological relationship between
Marxism-Leninism and anti-Western nationalism, Snow is also written by the
man who got into trouble for supporting the rights of Kurds and opposing
Iran's fatwa on Rushdie. And now this third Pamuk, more serious about
faith than about poetry, makes fun of intellectuals like himself even as
he acknowledges the bull's-eye on his back. From the Golden Horn, with a
wicked grin, the political novel makes a triumphant return.
Such novels are what Maureen Howard has been writing all along--about
love and work, class and violence, literature and womanhood; the lacework
bog of Irish America, the Potemkin bohemias of delirious New York, the
family secrets of sex and money, the botched experiments of marriage and
children, art and history as magnetic compass points, writing and teaching
as a calisthenics of moral intelligence. THE SILVER SCREEN (Viking, $
24.95) is the third in her projected quartet of fictions on a calendar
grid. After the winter of discontent and expiation in A Lover's Almanac
(1998), and the complicated Easter bunnies of redemption and renewal in
Big As Life (2001), now this long hot summer in Hollywood, New England,
and El Salvador. If you're still wondering who Artie's real father was,
The Silver Screen will tell you. But you need never even have heard of
Artie to enjoy this interrogation of the way we tell ourselves stories,
mythologizing our ordinary laves, on big screens (Singin' in the Rain) and
small ones (television documentaries), in books by Dante, Donne, and
Chekhov, in photographs by Georgia O'Keeffe and Walker Evans, in testimony
to federal agents and congressional committees, in Ovid and Goldilocks, in
Augustine and Freud. And when we aren't making stories and excuses, we're
making clocks and guns.
Isabel Mahler quits her career in silent movies to return to Rhode
Island to marry insurance salesman Tim Murphy and to mother Joe, their
son, who becomes a Jesuit priest; Rita, their daughter, who becomes a
physical therapist; and Gemma, the girl next door, who goes into the
redwoods with Ansel Adams and comes out with a Barcelona retrospective of
her photographs. "Bel" was Tinker Bell to these children, taking them on
excursions to such "magic arcades and pavilions" as Mark Twain's house in
Hartford and the Melville Museum in New Bedford. So when the music of the
spheres turns out to be a Sousa march, do they blame her for having been
too thrilling--Joe, because of his loss of faith after the murder of
Archbishop Romero; Rita, because of the lovelessness that led her into the
Witness Protection Program; Gemma, because of her feelings of fraudulence
and her ridiculous kimono? "How were we caught? What, what is it has
happened? What is it that has been happening that we are living the way we
are? The children are no longer the way it seemed they might be."
Some catechism. Throughout this brilliant novel, there is quite a lot
of the Mexican Day of the Dead, of paper skeletons and sugared skulls.
Gemma apostrophizes Bel's ghost: "I dad not want you to be over, like
silent movies or the Keith Circuit, Like beauty, like instruction, like
belief." But history, that myth-muncher, kills us all. The best we can
hope for, after the strut and fret, may be this comfort: "We do not play
to an empty house."
Every one of Ward Just's fourteen novels has been political. But
they've also been historical and anthropological, as we follow men, money,
and power from Chicago east, like Theodore Dreiser. And romantic and
mournful and abashed, as if Scott Fitzgerald went out on the town while
has Dorian Gray rotted in an attic. And as quiet as they are disquieting,
like the bullet-riddled skull in the study of the Freudian psychiatrist in
AN UNFINISHED SEA SON (Houghton Mifflin, $ 24). If Just in has fiction
often telescopes time--decades suggested in sinister ellipses, gnomic
haikus, mordant witticisms--here he confines himself mostly to a single
season. In the summer of 1954, nineteen-year-old Wilson Ravan loses two
fathers, finds a vocation, falls in Love, and is almost fired from has job
at a Chicago tabloid newspaper ("a carnival of love nests, revenge
killings, slumlords, machine graft, and Communists deep in the apparatus
of state and national government") because he arrives at work still
wearing dancing shoes from a North Shore debutante ball the night before.
I don't want to tell you who dies, or why, except that, as in Orhan
Pamuk and Maureen Howard, history is the real killer. Wilson hasn't
entered the University of Chicago yet, but he is as much a victim of the
Bataan Death March, the Taft-Hartley Act, the House Committee on
Un-American Activities, and the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons as
any of the adults, I'd rather point to the frozen pond where has
businessman-father pretends to play ice hockey on winter afternoons, as if
he were back at college at Dartmouth; the herd of deer, moving at night
across the golf course fairway; the jazzmen in the smoky Chicago dives
winking at the white boys; the tabloid reporters poised at their
typewriters, as if the machine "were a small animal or the skin of a woman
... birds building nests one twig at a time"; Aurora, the girl whose voice
has the timbre of an oboe; and surprisingly affecting cameo appearances by
Adlai Stevenson and Marlon Brando.
Somehow, more like Camus than Fitzgerald, these characters rise from
depths to surface--from a hand of pinochle to the baby-blue helmets of the
United Nations, from a brick through a window to Van Gogh's ear, from John
O'Hara to Othello--with the defining gestures of shadow puppets, a kind of
frozen Winter Palace theater from which we are lucky to escape alive. What
is once again remarkable about this writer are the graceful figure-eights
he skates around has bone-deep knowledge of the worst about us, our
Calibans and Brothers Grimm.
IAC-CREATE-DATE: August 16, 2004
LOAD-DATE: August 17, 2004
The New York Times
August 10, 2004 Tuesday
Late Edition - Final
A Blizzard of Contradictions in Modern Turkey
By RICHARD EDER
By Orhan Pamuk
Translated by Maureen Freely. 426 pages. Alfred A. Knopf. $26.
In his last novel, ''My Name is Red,'' the great and almost
irresistibly beguiling Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk devised a breathtaking
image for the schism in his country's soul between Westernization and the
traditional values of Islam.
Set in the 16th century, ''Red'' presents the schism as the incursion
of Renaissance painting -- representational, three-dimensional and with an
individualist vision -- into the sultan's court. There the flat, stylized
and impersonal grace of the traditional miniaturists is upheld as a matter
of religion; and Western perspective is abhorred, since, for instance, it
could make a nearby dog bigger than a far-off mosque.
The implications go way beyond art. In Mr. Pamuk's pyrotechnics of
mystery, murders, eroticism and glittering colors, art is war and civil
war among humanity's embattled religious and historical values.
''Snow,'' translated from Turkish by Maureen Freely, deals with the
same schism but its setting is political. It is a novel of lesser scope
than its grand and magical predecessor and more narrowly focused, although
it is enriched by the author's same mesmerizing mixes: cruelty and farce,
poetry and violence, and a voice whose timbres range from a storyteller's
playfulness to the dark torment of an explorer, lost. All this finds
voices through characters whose tactile immediacy fades imperceptibly into
a fog of ambiguousness and contradiction.
Often we don't know where we are, only to realize that this is exactly
where we are: in Mr. Pamuk's vision of a Turkey unable to know itself. The
fight has gone on too long and run too deep: a schism not of two distinct
sides but of two sides existing within a single consciousness, one that is
both the nation's and the author's. Educated abroad, trained in Western
literature and culture, he is caught in the entwined roots of tradition
and modernity, each choking the other.
Culturally and politically Mr. Pamuk is a Westerner, but he is
shattered to see his beliefs embodied in the methods used by the heirs of
Kemal Ataturk who, grown dictatorial and often corrupt, have tried to
force their secular code upon a vast Islam-bred rural and urban underclass
(no turbans, fezzes or head scarves). In an epigraph he quotes
Dostoyevsky's sardonic rendering of Russia's own modernizers: ''Well,
then, eliminate the people, curtail them, force them to be silent. Because
the European enlightenment is more important than people.''
Ka, the protagonist of ''Snow,'' could not bear the consequences if
the popular will turned out to be fundamentalist. He is not so much the
author's alter ego as his emissary to the wilder, zanier shores of a
dilemma that by now is more than his own and Turkey's. It shows itself
these days in a number of countries, including the one where the United
States has engaged itself so chaotically. Trying to democratize, that is,
yet most likely unwilling to accept the likely failure that would follow
an unlikely success.
A blocked poet and onetime radical, Ka returns from Germany after 12
years' exile to get back in touch with his country. A newspaper assignment
takes him to a town near the Georgian border to investigate a rumor,
mostly exaggerated, about a wave of schoolgirls who killed themselves when
ordered to remove their head scarves.
In his picaresque wanderings through the streets, symbolically blurred
and isolated under a weeklong blizzard, he goes from one encounter to the
next. Some are sinister, some alluring, some surreal. A dog, a
charcoal-colored match for the German overcoat Ka proudly wears, persists
in following him around as if to mock his Westernizing vanity. Each
meeting is a dissonance, a clue to a puzzle he can't make out.
He finds a vicious paramilitary killer who claims to be upholding Ka's
own civilized values against the prospect of a Turkish Iran. There is an
old Communist who tolerates a daughter's head scarf as a rebellion against
the establishment, and a newspaper editor who publishes as past events
those that are still to take place. And -- partly a magical-realist touch
and partly an acid satire on the press -- publication seems to make them
Ka is moved to anguish by Necip, a young fundamentalist of surpassing
sweetness who is afraid he will lose his faith (though he's killed before
he can). He is chilled and infuriated by Blue, a lethal yet childlike
Most extravagantly, and it is the novel's garish, extended climax, he
becomes involved with Sunay, a theater impresario and former leftist who
now seems to work on behalf of the military ultras pledged to the secular
Ataturk tradition. Sunay organizes a crude anti-Islamic vaudeville that
incites a near-riot. This provides the excuse for the local army garrison
to mount a minicoup and arrest, torture or kill Islamists and Kurds.
Controlling it all, the impresario glories in having achieved a supreme
work of art, one whose dramatic culmination will be his own death onstage.
Art, its vanities and its detachment from consequences, is one of the
author 's targets. But what marks Mr. Pamuk and his targets is that he
stands alongside them to receive his own lethal arrows. And he does it
with odd gaiety and compassion.
Ka wanders through the town's murderous chaos receiving tidy
inspiration and producing 19 poems of exactly 36 lines each. He is a fool
of time, but his creator is tender and funny with his fools. Ka is doomed
finally to betray, and so is the marvelous woman he has a besotted and
arousingly depicted affair with; each in a different way is an innocent.
Even the symbols get affectionate treatment. Cutting off the town, the
blizzard may stand for the isolation from any universal truth or value;
one that history seemingly requires by history while it conducts its
contorted affairs. The snow, though, is of surpassing beauty and
hauntingly rendered. For Mr. Pamuk beauty does not redeem the tragic
horrors begotten by human passions and obstinate memory. Neither do the
horrors diminish it.
LOAD-DATE: August 10, 2004
August 14, 2004
Problems of identity;
New novels from two leading Turkish writers
ORHAN PAMUK is the leading contemporary interpreter of Turkish society
to the western world: his novels, now invariably translated into English,
explore the dilemmas and divisions of a land that is both east and west,
Islamist and secular, rich and poor, ancient and modern, and much more
besides. Some of his earlier explorations of Turkish identity have been
hard going, not eased by their translators. But his latest novel, "Kar" or
"Snow", the first to be translated by Maureen Freely, an American raised
in Istanbul, is one of his most accessible.
Set in the 1990s in the bleak north-eastern city of Kars, the novel is
an account of the tensions between Turkey's urban secularist elite and
their long-derided (and vastly underestimated) Islamic-minded opponents.
It is also a tragic love story, a thriller and, more broadly, a dark
journey into familiar Pamuk territory: faith, identity, betrayal and
The hero is a washed-out poet, Kerim Alakusoglu, who insists on calling
himself Ka. After years as a political refugee in Frankfurt, he returns to
Istanbul for his mother's funeral. Egged on by a university friend at the
doggedly pro-secular Cumhuriyet ("Republic") newspaper he travels to Kars
to write about the municipal elections there (which are sure to be won by
an Islamist candidate).
The plot unfolds over three days during which Kars is cut off from the
rest of the world by an unremitting snowstorm (the book might have been
titled "Ka in Kar in Kars"). In that time, there is a mini coup in which
hundreds of Islamists and Kurds are rounded up, brutally tortured and
killed. Ka sets out to investigate a rash of suicides by female students
barred from attending local schools because they refuse to remove their
headscarves-an inflammatory symbol, insist the secularists, of Islamic
But is it? One of the achievements of "Snow" is to look beyond the
tired arguments about why so many Turkish women cover their heads. In the
case of Kadife, a central character, it is to gain the affection of a
charismatic Islamist militant leader, not out of religious conviction.
Readers looking for a less intense taste of Turkey can turn to "The
Saint of Incipient Insanities", the first novel written in English by Elif
Shafak, an established writer with award-winning Turkish novels under her
belt, who has been attacked for reviving Ottoman words, for her
fascination with religion, and now for "betraying" her motherland by
writing in English. Ms Shafak has woven a tragi-comic tapestry of quirky
and lovable 20-somethings struggling to find themselves in America.
Omer, an agnostic Turk; Abed, a pious Muslim Moroccan; and Piyu, a
guilt-wracked Catholic Spaniard, are housemates studying for various
degrees at a Boston university. Omer falls in love with Zarpandit, an
American with an inexplicable urge to kill herself. Through their
conversations over dinner and their encounters in their one hard-pressed
bathroom, the characters challenge each other's views on religion,
politics, nationality and gender. Zarpandit, the American, feels the most
alienated of all.
Mr Pamuk was educated in English at an elite Istanbul private school;
Ms Shafak was born in France and raised in Spain. Their books are as much
a voyage of discovery for themselves as they are insiders' insights of
Turkey. Both seek to shatter stereotypes. Unlike Mr Pamuk, though, Ms
Shafak does it with ironic humour and warmth. In one of the funniest
scenes in her latest book, Abed's newly arrived (and devoutly Muslim)
mother offers "round platters of sugar skulls" and "trays of werewolf
claws" to inebriated guests at a Halloween party. Ms Shafak is well set to
challenge Mr Pamuk as Turkey's foremost contemporary novelist.
LOAD-DATE: August 13, 2004
The New York Times
August 15, 2004 Sunday
Orhan Pamuk: 'I Was Not A Political Person'
By Alexander Star.
Alexander Star is the senior editor of The New York Times Magazine.
ALEXANDER STAR: In your novel, Turkey is a somewhat surreal country,
where secular nationalists and theocrats compete to impose what seem to be
equally dubious ideas of how to force people to be free. Is this the
Turkey you know?
ORHAN PAMUK: Well, that gap between my character's consciousness and
the country's poetic reality is perhaps the essential tension of my novel.
I wanted to go and explore both worlds and write about them as they are --
the Westernized intellectual's worldview coming to terms with the poorest,
most forgotten and perhaps most ignored part of the country. The most
angry part, too.
STAR: A key concern in ''Snow'' is the desire of many Muslim women to
wear headscarves to school -- an issue that raises delicate questions
about where you draw the line between, say, the tolerance of religion and
the imposition of religion. The current Turkish government has,
controversially, attempted to assist the graduates of religious schools.
Do you feel that is a legitimate cause for them?
PAMUK: Look, I'm a writer. I try to focus on these issues not from the
point of view of a statesman but from the point of view of a person who
tries to understand the pain and suffering of others. I don't think there
is any set formula to solve these problems. Anyone who believes there is a
simple solution to these problems is a fool -- and probably will soon end
up being part of the problem. I think literature can approach these
problems because you can go into more shady areas, areas where no one is
right and no one has the right to say what is right. That's what makes
writing novels interesting. It's what makes writing a political novel
STAR: And yet your novel expresses a lot of anxiety over whether it's
possible to fully understand the misery and humiliation of people living
in unfamiliar circumstances.
PAMUK: Spiritually and morally, I am close to my central character. As
he goes to the poorest sections of Turkish society, he falls into the
traps of representation -- talking in the name of the others, for the most
poor. He realizes these issues are problematic. In fact, they may
sometimes end up being immoral: the problem of representing the poor, the
unrepresented, even in literature, is morally dubious. So in this
political novel, my little contribution -- if there is any, I have to be
modest -- is to turn it around a bit and make the problem of
representation a part of the fiction too.
STAR: How did you come to write a political novel?
PAMUK: I was not a political person when I began writing 20 years ago.
The previous generation of Turkish authors were too political, morally too
much involved. They were essentially writing what Nabokov would call
social commentary. I used to believe, and still believe, that that kind of
politics only damages your art. Twenty years ago, 25 years ago, I had a
radical belief only in what Henry James would call the grand art of the
novel. But later, as I began to get known both inside and outside of
Turkey, people began to ask political questions and demand political
commentaries. Which I did because I sincerely felt that the Turkish state
was damaging democracy, human rights and the country. So I did things
outside of my books.
STAR: Such as?
PAMUK: Write petitions, attend political meetings, but essentially
make commentaries outside of my books. This made me a bit notorious, and I
began to get involved in a sort of political war against the Turkish state
and the establishment, which 10 years ago was more partial to
nationalists. Anyway, I said to myself, Why don't I once write a political
novel and get all of this off my chest?
STAR: Did you have trouble publishing ''Snow'' in Turkey? How was it
received by Islamists and others?
PAMUK: Before the publication of the book I told my friends and my
publisher that I was finishing an outspoken political novel. Shall we show
this to lawyers? And they said, No, no, no, now that Turkey is hoping to
get in touch with Europe and now that you're nationally -- internationally
-- ''famous,'' you don't need to do that. O.K. And after some time I gave
my publishers the book. Here is the book, I said. And a week later they
called me and said they'd read the book, loved the book, but they wanted
my permission to show it to a lawyer. They were worried that the public
prosecutor might open a case, or confiscate the book before its
publication. The first printing was 100,000 copies. They were essentially
worried about the economic side of the thing. For example, they hid the
book in a corner, so if it were confiscated, they could keep some copies
for themselves. But none of these pessimistic things happened. In fact,
the country seriously discussed the book. Half of the political Islamists
and people who backed the army attacked me. On the other hand, I survived.
Nothing happened to me. And in fact it worked the way I hoped it would.
Some of those radical Islamists criticized the book with very simplistic
ideas, such as ''You're trying to describe Islamists but you have to know
that an Islamist would never have sex with a woman without getting
married.'' On the other hand, more liberal Islamists were pleased that at
least the harassment they had been exposed to by the Turkish Army is
STAR: When George Bush was in Istanbul recently for the NATO summit,
he referred to you as a ''great writer'' who has helped bridge the divide
between East and West. Citing your own statements about how people around
the world are very much alike, he defended American efforts to help people
in the Middle East enjoy their ''birthright of freedom.'' Did you think he
understood what you meant?
PAMUK: I think George Bush put a lot of distance between East and West
with this war. He made the whole Islamic community unnecessarily angry
with the United States, and in fact with the West. This will pave the way
to lots of horrors and inflict cruel and unnecessary pain to lots of
people. It will raise the tension between East and West. These are things
I never hoped would happen. In my books I always looked for a sort of
harmony between the so-called East and West. In short, what I wrote in my
books for years was misquoted, and used as a sort of apology for what had
been done. And what had been done was a cruel thing.
STAR: Is the novel as a form something you think is alive and well in
the Middle East or the non-Western world more broadly? Or do you feel
you're doing something rather unusual?
PAMUK: No, the art of the novel is well. It's surviving. It has lots
of elasticity. I'm sure it will continue to live in the West, in the
United States and Europe. But it will have a very strange and new future
in countries like China and India, where now there is an unprecedented
rise of the middle classes. Legitimizing the power of these new middle
classes creates problems of identity both in China and in India. This
involves their nationalism when they are faced with the distinct identity
of Europe and the West, and their Occidentalism when they are faced with
the resistance of their poor people. I think the new modern novel that
will come from the East, from that part of the world, will again raise
these tensions of East-West modernity and the slippery nature of these
rising middle classes in China and India. And also in Turkey, of course.
STAR: In ''Snow,'' the radical Islamist Blue remarks at one point that
the best thing America's given the world is Red Marlboros. Would you agree
PAMUK: I used to smoke them a lot when I was young. We distribute our
personal pleasures in our characters. That's one of the joys of writing
LOAD-DATE: August 15, 2004
The New York Times
August 15, 2004 Sunday
Headscarves To Die For
By Margaret Atwood.
Margaret Atwood's most recent book is ''Oryx and Crake,'' a novel.
By Orhan Pamuk.
Translated by Maureen Freely.
426 pp. Alfred A.
This seventh novel from the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk is not only an
engrossing feat of tale-spinning, but essential reading for our times.
In Turkey, Pamuk is the equivalent of rock star, guru, diagnostic
specialist and political pundit: the Turkish public reads his novels as if
taking its own pulse. He is also highly esteemed in Europe: his sixth
novel, the lush and intriguing ''My Name Is Red,'' carried off the 2003
Impac Dublin Literary Award, adding to his long list of prizes.
He deserves to be better known in North America, and no doubt he will
be, as his fictions turn on the conflict between the forces of
''Westernization'' and those of the Islamists. Although it's set in the
1990's and was begun before Sept. 11, ''Snow'' is eerily prescient, both
in its analyses of fundamentalist attitudes and in the nature of the
repression and rage and conspiracies and violence it depicts.
Like Pamuk's other novels, ''Snow'' is an in-depth tour of the
divided, hopeful, desolate, mystifying Turkish soul. It's the story of Ka,
a gloomy but appealing poet who hasn't written anything in years. But Ka
is not his own narrator: by the time of the telling he has been
assassinated, and his tale is pieced together by an ''old friend'' of his
who just happens to be named Orhan.
As the novel opens, Ka has been in political exile in Frankfurt, but
has returned to Istanbul after 12 years for his mother's funeral. He's
making his way to Kars, an impoverished city in Anatolia, just as a severe
snowstorm begins. (Kar is ''snow'' in Turkish, so we have already been
given an envelope inside an envelope inside an envelope.) Ka claims to be
a journalist interested in the recent murder of the city's mayor and the
suicides of a number of young girls forced by their schools to remove
their headscarves, but this is only one of his motives. He also wants to
see Ipek, a beautiful woman he'd known as a student. Divorced from a
onetime friend of Ka's turned Islamist politician, she lives in the shabby
Snow Palace Hotel, where Ka is staying.
Cut off from escape by the snow, Ka wanders through a decaying city
haunted by its glorious former selves: there are architectural remnants of
the once vast Ottoman Empire; the grand Armenian church stands empty,
testifying to the massacre of its worshipers; there are ghosts of Russian
rulers and their lavish celebrations, and pictures of Ataturk, founder of
the Turkish Republic and instigator of a ruthless ''modernization''
campaign, which included -- not incidentally -- a ban on headscarves.
Ka's pose as a journalist allows Pamuk to put on display a wide
variety of opinions. Those not living in the shrunken remains of former
empires may find it hard to imagine the mix of resentful entitlement (We
ought to be powerful!), shame (What did we do wrong?), blame (Whose fault
is it?) and anxiety about identity (Who are we really?) that takes up a
great deal of headroom in such places, and thus in ''Snow.''
Ka tries to find out more about the dead girls but encounters
resistance: he 's from a bourgeois background in cosmopolitan Istanbul,
he's been in exile in the West, he has a snazzy overcoat. Believers accuse
him of atheism; the secular government doesn't want him writing about the
suicides -- a blot on its reputation -- so he's dogged by police spies;
common people are suspicious of him. He's present in a pastry shop when a
tiny fundamentalist gunman murders the director of the institute that has
expelled the headscarf girls. He gets mixed up with his beloved's former
husband, the two of them are arrested and he witnesses the brutality of
the secularist regime. He manages to duck his shadowers long enough to
meet with an Islamist extremist in hiding, the persuasive Blue, said to be
behind the director's murder. And so he goes, floundering from encounter
In ''Snow,'' translated by Maureen Freely, the line between playful
farce and gruesome tragedy is very fine. For instance, the town's
newspaper publisher, Serdar Bey, prints an article describing Ka's public
performance of his poem '' Snow.'' When Ka protests that he hasn't written
a poem called ''Snow'' and is not going to perform it in the theater,
Serdar Bey replies: ''Don't be so sure. There are those who despise us for
writing the news before it happens. . . . Quite a few things do happen
only because we've written them up first. This is what modern journalism
is all about.'' And sure enough, inspired by the love affair he begins
with Ipek and happier than he's been in years, Ka begins to write poems,
the first of them being ''Snow.'' Before you know it, there he is in the
theater, but the evening also includes a ridiculous performance of an
Ataturk-era play called ''My Fatherland or My Head Scarf.'' As the
religious school teenagers jeer, the secularists decide to enforce their
rule by firing rifles into the audience.
The twists of fate, the plots that double back on themselves, the
trickiness, the mysteries that recede as they're approached, the bleak
cities, the night prowling, the sense of identity loss, the protagonist in
exile -- these are vintage Pamuk, but they're also part of the modern
literary landscape. A case could be made for a genre called the Male
Labyrinth Novel, which would trace its ancestry through De Quincey and
Dostoyevsky and Conrad, and would include Kafka, Borges, Garcia Marquez,
DeLillo and Auster, with the Hammett-and-Chandler noir thriller thrown in
for good measure. It's mostly men who write such novels and feature as
their rootless heroes, and there's probably a simple reason for this: send
a woman out alone on a rambling nocturnal quest and she's likely to end up
a lot deader a lot sooner than a man would.
Women -- except as idealized objects of desire -- have not been of
notably central importance in Pamuk's previous novels, but ''Snow'' is a
departure. There are two strong female characters, the emotionally
battered Ipek and her sister, the stubborn actress Kadife. In addition,
there's a chorus: the headscarf girls. Those scrapping for power on both
sides use these dead girls as symbols, having put unbearable pressure on
them while they were alive. Ka, however, sees them as suffering human
beings. ''It wasn't the elements of poverty or helplessness that Ka found
so shocking. Neither was it the constant beatings to which these girls
were subjected, or the insensitivity of fathers who wouldn't even let them
go outside, or the constant surveillance of jealous husbands. The thing
that shocked and frightened Ka was the way these girls had killed
themselves: abruptly, without ritual or warning, in the midst of their
Their suicides are like the other brutal events in the novel: sudden
eruptions of violence thrown up by relentless underlying forces.
The attitudes of men toward women drive the plot in ''Snow,'' but even
more important are the attitudes of men toward one another. Ka is always
worrying about whether other men respect or despise him, and that respect
hinges not on material wealth but on what he is thought to believe. Since
he himself isn't sure, he vacillates from one side to another. Shall he
stick with the Western enlightenment? But he was miserable in Germany.
Shall he return to the Muslim fold? But despite his drunken hand-kissing
of a local religious leader, he can't fit in.
If Ka were to run true to the form of Pamuk's previous novels, he
might take refuge in stories. Stories, Pamuk has hinted, create the world
we perceive: instead of ''I think, therefore I am,'' a Pamuk character
might say, ''I am because I narrate.'' It's the Scheherazade position, in
spades. But poor murdered Ka is no novelist: it's up to ''Orhan'' to act
as his Horatio.
''Snow'' is the latest entry in Pamuk's longtime project: narrating
his country into being. It's also the closest to realism. Kars is finely
drawn, in all its touching squalor, but its inhabitants resist ''Orhan's''
novelizing of them. One of them asks him to tell the reader not to believe
anything he says about them, because ''no one could understand us from so
far away.'' This is a challenge to Pamuk and his considerable art, but it
is also a challenge to us.
LOAD-DATE: August 15, 2004
The Miami Herald
August 15, 2004 Sunday F1LA EDITION
A TURKISH POET RETURNS HOME TO FIND HIMSELF IMMERSED IN A COMPLICATED
POLITICS, RELIGION AND PASSION;
FICTION / SNOW
Orhan Pamuk. Knopf. 448 pages. $26.
BY ANDREW FURMAN
In a world ever more riven between East and West, Turkey -- located
geographically and politically between the Middle East and Europe -- has
emerged as a prominent player on the world scene. With its secular
democratic government presiding over an Islamic majority, the country
serves as a touchstone by which the world measures the pulse of these
competing movements. All of which makes the ambitious political novel by
Turkey's most prominent novelist a satisfying contribution to our
otherwise low-cal summer literary menu.
In the broadest sense, Snowrepresents a frontal assault on Stendhal's
famous denunciation of political novels -- ''Politics in a literary work
are a pistol-shot in the middle of a concert'' -- which serves as one of
the book's epigrams. Orhan Pamuk succeeds admirably in engaging with
political ideas and currents while simultaneously attending to the generic
demands of the novel. The story revolves around Ka, an impassive Turkish
poet living in exile in Frankfurt who returns home for his mother's
funeral and confronts his home nation's percolating crises and his own
Pamuk constructs a somewhat clunky but effective plot apparatus. Ka,
intrigued by a rash of suicides among Islamic girls forbidden to wear
their head-scarves to school, accepts a journalistic assignment to the
remote outpost of Kars to report on the phenomenon. He also hopes to woo
Ipek, a woman of intoxicating beauty he remembers from his university
days, who now lives in Kars in the Snow Palace Hotel.
Kars clings to a tenuous existence by virtue of its processed cheese,
but was once a prosperous mountain city along the trade route between the
Russian and Ottoman empires. Pamuk evokes in lush detail the defunct
Baltic buildings that remain -- the Armenian churches, Seljuk castles, and
abandoned mansions -- while also describing the decidedly less opulent
teahouses, dairy shops and shanties. Each building has its own story of
the various empires and ideologies that have wrested over Turkey's soul,
and rarely does a building along Ka's way escape the deft attention of our
narrator (the identity of whom is one of the novel's minor mysteries).
Almost immediately upon Ka's arrival, events conspire to transform him
into an active participant in a pitched battle over the city. First, the
director of the Institute for Education, the man responsible for barring
head-covered girls from the classrooms, is assassinated by an Islamic
extremist. Then, aided by a snowstorm that effectively isolates the city,
a militaristic wing of the government stages a bloody coup to tamp down
the surging popularity of the Islamic movement.
Both sides seek out the enigmatic Ka for their own tactical purposes,
which brings our hero in contact with an assortment of colorful
characters. The handsome but crippled Blue, a radical political Islamist
of mythic stature, is among the most memorable. A composite of any number
of modern fundamentalist leaders, given his curiously familiar admixture
of charisma, sexual charm and outward gentleness, he inveighs upon Ka not
to write about the ''suicide girls,' ' for fear of the erroneous
impression of Islam it would give the world. ''Girls who commit suicide
are not even Muslims!'' he bewails.
Ka's ambivalent allegiances and emotional vulnerability in the wake of
his mother's death make him the perfect vehicle through which Pamuk can
explore the competing lure of religious fundamentalism, secular
nationalism and cosmopolitan intellectualism. And Pamuk trenchantly evokes
the moral ambiguity of the timely scenario he constructs -- the head-scarf
controversy currently rages in France -- rather than seeking to advance
any illusory moral platitude. Various sides have their say in often
disconcertingly convincing terms. The coup leader, Sunay, makes a credible
case for secular militarism when he accosts Ka for the intellectual
hypocrisies that allow violent fundamentalists like Blue to thrive. ''No
one who's even slightly westernized can breathe free in this country
unless they have a secular army protecting them,'' he argues, ''and no one
needs this protection more than intellectuals who think they're better
than everyone else and look down on other people. If it weren't for the
army, the fanatics would be turning their rusty knives on the lot of
Yet, Ka (and Pamuk) recognize that the leveling force of western
secularism can be every bit as oppressive as fundamentalist Islam. Hande,
a minor character, speaks convincingly against the head-scarf edict:
''Sometimes I can conjure up a girl walking into school with her hair
flying all around her . . . I can even imagine the smell of the hallway
and the clamminess of the air. Then I look through the pane of glass that
separates the classroom from the hallway and I see that the girl is not me
but someone else, and I start to cry. . . . What scares me is the thought
of never being able to return to the person I am now, and even forgetting
who that person is.''
Sunay's identity as a stage actor turned military coup leader and the
role that theater plays as the coup reaches its final bloody crescendo is
the only aspect of the plot that strains credulity. However, the
convergence of Sunay's theatrical and political ambitions advances one of
the primary themes of the novel, which is Ka's effort to carve out a
contemporary existence defined by authentic emotive and intellectual
responses in a world rife with poseurs across the political and artistic
spectrum. Ka had planned to embrace an apolitical life as an exiled poet.
Yet such an existence proves sterile. He writes his best poetry while up
to his neck in politics, while in the thrall of the lovely Ipek. The
social realm, dangerous and duplicitous as it may be, Pamuk seems to
suggest, cannot be excised from the realm of high art. One might as well
try to remove politics from the novel.
Andrew Furman is chair of the Department of English at Florida Atlantic
LOAD-DATE: August 15, 2004
August 23, 2004
by Wendy Smith
At an early age, I decided that I would not write anything political,"
says Orhan Pamuk. This is a surprising comment, coming from an author well
known in his native Turkey for his forthright condemnation of the death
sentence issued against Salman Rushdie in 1989 and of the Turkish
government's brutal repression of Kurdish separatists during the 1990s.
It's especially surprising since his latest novel, Snow (Fiction
Forecasts, July 19), published by Knopf this month, grapples with the
politically charged subject of Islamic fundamentalism, telling the story
of a poet visiting a remote town on Turkey's eastern border where there
has been a rash of suicides among female students forbidden to wear head
scarves in school.
But it's also true that Pamuk is better known to readers of fiction for
a series of novels that, while they often explore the tension between
traditional Islamic values and the Westernizing policies of the modern
Turkish state, are just as notable for their complex, modernist narrative
structures and their concern with such existential matters as the nature
White Castle in 1990 through The Black Book and The New Life to My Name Is
Red in 2001 (two earlier novels remain untranslated), English-speaking
critics have noted the social and political backdrop of Pamuk's work, but
have been more struck by its brilliant imagery and literary erudition.
"Snow is my first deliberately political novel," the writer
acknowledges by telephone from his home in Istanbul. "When I started
writing fiction some 30 years ago, I had seen that the best authors of
previous generations had destroyed their talent to serve a country, to get
politically involved, or to make a moral command. But 20 years later,
after I had established myself as an author both inside and outside
Turkey, I was critical not only of the war the Turkish state waged against
the Kurdish guerrillas, but also of its position on human rights and
freedom of expression. I published some articles, most of them outside
Turkey because I couldn't publish them at home then, and I began to get a
bit notorious for making political comments outside my books. I said to
myself, 'Why don't I once write a political novel and get it out of my
Snow, however, is no didactic polemic. Pamuk allows the young women who
choose to wear head scarves, and the fundamentalist men who incite them,
to speak powerfully for themselves; they may not convince Ka, the poet,
but he is moved by them. "One of the pleasures of writing this novel,"
Pamuk comments, "was to say to my Turkish readers and to my international
audience, openly and a bit provocatively, but honestly, that what they
call a terrorist is first of all a human being. Our secularists, who are
always relying on the army and who are destroying Turkey's democracy,
hated this book because here you have a deliberate attempt by a person who
was never religious in his life to understand why someone ends up being
what we or the Western world calls an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist. It
is a challenge and a duty of literature to understand the passions of
anyone, to try to enter the spirits of people, which various taboos forbid
us to understand."
It's clear from the writer's fervent tone that this last sentence forms
a crucial portion of his artistic credo, but--characteristically--he does
not leave it unchallenged in Snow. "How much can we ever know about the
love and pain in another's heart?" asks a character called Orhan Pamuk
(one of the novel 's many sly, postmodern touches), and his real-life
namesake does not have a definitive answer. "In the 1950s and '60s, people
hoped that they would understand everything by writing a political novel,"
he goes on. "Here I am saying, 'Well, I bowed my head in an attempt to
understand the underdog, but there are limits. Beware the claims to
understand all: it's a political mistake. ' I have joked in Turkey, and
let me continue my joking here, that this is my first and last political
novel; it should only be done once in life!"
Pamuk's last book, a memoir of his youth entitled Istanbul, was
published last year in Turkey. The writer is currently going over the
English version with Maureen Freely (who also translated Snow); Knopf
expects to release it in spring 2005. Pamuk is ruefully aware that
"something is always lost in translation; it breaks one's heart so much.
And most of the time it's not the translator's fault, it's the language's
fault. I feel sometimes that I am trapped in Turkish, which is hard to
translate." At least in English, which he speaks fluently, he can make
adjustments with Freely: "When something is untranslatable, when we
understand that this pure beauty, this little flower, will not pass and
will be damaged in translation, we sometimes try to invent new things as a
sort of consolation: not the original flower, but a new flower."
PW wonders if the writer who has so frequently depicted conflict
between Islam and the West in his fiction sees any hope for the resolution
of this conflict in the real world, where it has assumed crisis
proportions. "Not when the likes of Bush or the arrogant Turkish ruling
elite try to solve the tensions between conservative Islam and modernity
with bombs," he replies. "That is a dead end. But I am an optimistic
person. I think that these guys who try to modernize or Europeanize or
westernize the rest of the world by force, they will disappear.
Globalization will continue, I see that as a positive thing, but
peacefully, with mutual understanding among tribes and peoples and
LOAD-DATE: August 26, 2004
The New York Sun
August 25, 2004 Wednesday
By BENJAMIN LYTAL
"Snow" (Alfred A. Knopf, 426 pages, $26) opens like a political novel,
but its characters's disagreements eventually spin out a world of their
own, fairly far away from CNN. The hardships of change, in and out of
faith, are omnipresent. A blizzard blocks all the roads out of the Turkish
border town of Kars, creating a perfect storm for Orhan Pamuk's themes.
Like dancers in the round, the citizens of Kars debate every angle of
social and religious controversy.
Mr. Pamuk is regularly compared to Calvino or Borges; he has written
several books about mysterious texts. But here his muster of characters -
there is the paterfamilias ex-communist, the irresistible terrorist, the
feminine dictator - and their sometimes spellbinding speeches remind me
more of something like "Hard Times." And this novel of fatalism in
politics is actually more about the difficulty in communicating meaning
across borders than the difficulty in finding meaning.
"Snow" is written in a casually reflexive prose of pillowy
explanations. Ka, a poet exiled in Frankfurt, finds himself in Kars. He's
officially writing an article about a suicide trend among girls who insist
on wearing headscarves to school, but he readily admits that he's really
there to find a Turkish wife: specifically, Ipek, a beauty from Ka's
radical school days who is now separated from Muhtar, a former leftist
rebel and poet who has turned to political Islam.
Ka becomes lost in the new categories of secularism vs. Islam. He tries
not to pick sides, and when pressed he insists that he only wants
happiness, a new thing for him. But his happiness depends not only on
Ipek, but on the feeling that he has found God - "the desolation and
remoteness of the place hit him with such force that he felt God inside
him." And this same inspiration gives Ka poems for the first time in four
Ka's poems, which he pauses to write at regular intervals, seem for a
while to be the guarantor of Mr. Pamuk's novel. As local turmoil distracts
him from taking any definitive moral action, we learn from the narrator
that Ka is stopping at regular intervals to write poems. These poems
promise to make everything that happens in Kars, which is like a snake
eating its own tail, matter. But that is not quite the case. "It isn't
enough to be a poet," muses Ka, "that's why politics still casts such a
shadow over our lives."
As the narrator gradually reveals, the poems are lost, and the novel we
are reading is a careful reconstruction of events based on Ka's diaries.
We are left only with the title of the volume, "Snow," and the knowledge
that staring off into the snow was Ka's great blank escape from whatever
was happening around him.
LOAD-DATE: September 2, 2004
National Post (f/k/a The Financial Post) (Canada)
August 28, 2004 Saturday
A bluffer's guide: Too busy to read the hot books? Here's a cheat sheet to
help you talk about them like you have.
Dan Rowe, National Post
by Orhan Pamuk
- - -
It's not surprising that Margaret Atwood began her New York Times
review of Snow with this line: "This seventh novel from the Turkish writer
Orhan Pamuk is not only an engrossing feat of tale-spinning, but essential
reading for our times."
Snow is, after all, a novel set in 1990s Turkey about, in a very basic
way, the Islamic fundamentalist reaction to the policies of a secularist
regime. Pamuk spins this tale through Ka, an exiled poet who returns to
his snow-ridden, isolated Turkish home town of Kars, in part to report on
the growing numbers of teenage girls who are committing suicide because
they don't want to adhere to the state's ban on headscarves in school --
an essential subject matter if ever there was one.
And topicality aside, Snow is just a fine piece of fiction. The winner
of the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2003 for My Name is Red, Pamuk
handles this story deftly in two respects. His writing and plotting are
tremendous. And his handling of the political issue of fundamentalism is
better still. Despite her overwrought construction, Laurel Maury gets it
right in her San Francisco Chronicle review: "Snow will make you feel the
arguments surrounding fundamentalism as a situation of murky grays, where
the only thing black is the night, and the only thing white is the snow."
All Pamuk does is show both the Islamists and the secularists in his
novel as having pangs of doubt. In the end, they are faithful to their
cause, but not quite with the fervour and totality that many journalists
and commentators would have us believe. This, then, is yet another example
of where fiction is infinitely more truthful than the bromides and
broadsides which make up the news and op-ed pages.
Most of all, it is reassuring that Pamuk has taken up these serious,
modern issues in Snow. Far too often, novelists in these parts --
musicians, actors, and other artists are guilty, too --seem to shy away
from engaging in current events in such a straightforward and artful way.
And when they do tackle big topics, it tends to be gimmicky.
For the more daring writers like Pamuk, there is even more compelling
territory to cover. "A more serious challenge to novelists in Turkey, Iran
and the Arab world," writes James Buchan in The Guardian, "is that the
events of September 11, the Moscow theatre attack and Abu Ghraib are both
more romantic and more desperate than even Dostoevsky could have dreamed
up and written down."
LOAD-DATE: August 28, 2004
The Gazette (Montreal)
August 28, 2004 Saturday
Pamuk describes modern Turkey, with all its tensions
ERIC ORMSBY, Freelance
SNOW By Orhan Pamuk
Translated by Maureen Freely
Knopf, 428 pages, $38
The Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk has what Wallace Stevens called "a
mind of winter." His new novel brims with memorable characters but the
principal personage of the book is the snow.
Snow seals off the bleak city of Kars, in southeastern Turkey, where
the action takes place; the snow is beautiful, for it hides both the
depressing ugliness of a forsaken city and its convoluted past. But it
also confers a kind of deathbed isolation on the city and its inhabitants;
it may be a sign from God, as one of the characters exclaims, but it is a
chill and estranging sign.
As in Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, the snow allows Pamuk to cast
events and characters into high relief. In so doing, Pamuk creates a
swarming microcosm of contemporary Turkey, from old-guard Kemalists
fiercely upholding secularism to teenage girls tormented over whether to
don the hijab, to fiery yet furtive radical Islamists plotting a takeover
and a return to the glory days of the Caliphate.
Kerim Alakusoglu, who prefers to be called "Ka" for short, is a
disaffected poet newly returned from self-imposed exile in Germany; on the
pretext of investigating a rash of suicides by young girls, ostensibly
over the wearing of the hijab, he travels on behalf of a staunchly
secularist newspaper to Kars to interview the grieving families and
unravel the mystery. In fact, he is hoping to kindle a romance with the
beautiful and coquettish Ipek, an old flame who has recently divorced.
Once in Kars, Ka finds himself stranded by the blizzard and embarks on
a series of encounters through which Pamuk seeks to portray virtually
every face of present-day Turkey: corrupt and shifty bureaucrats,
militarists, teachers and actors, feminists veiled and unveiled, poets,
firebrands, zealots and time-servers, slog or slip through the icy
alleyways of the snowbound city of Kars.
Pamuk is superb at evoking this miserable place, which at varying
periods has been under the heel of the Ottomans, the Russians, the
Armenians and even the British: "... the old decrepit Russian buildings
with stovepipes sticking out of every window, the thousand-year-old
Armenian church towering over the wood depots and the electric generators,
the pack of dogs barking at every passerby from a 500-year-old stone
bridge as snow fell into the half-frozen black waters of the river below."
His portrayal of Ka, by contrast, is strangely shifting. The poet is at
one moment a thoroughly worldly figure, conniving to get the evasive Ipek
into his bed, and at another he is kissing the hands of the local saint
and fawning on his favours. He is consistent only in his self-absorption,
finding inspiration for his poems in the unlikeliest circumstances, during
a police interrogation or a massacre at a crowded theatre. Given the
narcissism of most poets, he becomes most believable only at such erratic
moments. Part of the vagueness of this portrayal is due, I suspect, to
Pamuk's desire to echo Kafka's novel The Castle. In that masterpiece, the
snow is all-pervasive, too, and the protagonist is identified only as K.
(pronounced "ka" in German). Like K., Ka finds himself increasingly
entangled in inexplicable snafus amid inhospitable surroundings. There is
something a bit schematic about all this, and it extends even to the
choice of Kars as a location: the Turkish word for "snow" is kar. Only
Pamuk's skill at realistic description and his sense of place keep the
novel from collapsing under its own heaped-up drifts of symbolism.
With its vowel harmony and intricate system of word-building, Turkish
is the most musical of languages and the translator has succeeded
admirably in suggesting its cadences to an English reader; the translation
Pamuk is a wonderful writer but, in my opinion, his new novel doesn't
succeed entirely as fiction. Too many odd characters tend to pop up like
unexpected rabbits out of a conjuror's hat, and too often, the characters
appear to be mere mouthpieces for divergent views. As a glimpse of
present-day Turkey, however, with all its terrific inner tensions and
smothering conflicts, vividly encapsulated as though in a snowy Petri
dish, Pamuk's novel will come as a startling revelation to many Western
Eric Ormsby is a Montreal poet and director of the Institute of
Studies at McGill University.
LOAD-DATE: August 28, 2004
The Washington Post
August 29, 2004 Sunday
Reviewed by Ruth Franklin
By Orhan Pamuk. Translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely
Knopf. 426 pp. $26
"Politics in a literary work are a pistol-shot in the middle of a
concert, a crude affair though one impossible to ignore," Stendhal wrote.
This line serves as one of the epigraphs to Snow, Orhan Pamuk's
mysterious, moving and -- yes -- political new novel, which includes a
scene where guns are shot into a theater audience. Firearms
notwithstanding, there is nothing crude about Pamuk's subtle work. The
author of seven previous novels, he has taken as his great subject the
tensions between West and East, religious and secular, in his native
Turkey. His most recent novel, My Name Is Red, was an ingenious, tightly
crafted tale of murder among miniaturists -- artists who illuminate
manuscripts -- in 16th-century Istanbul, for which he at last garnered
much-deserved recognition in the United States.
Snow, which takes place in the present day, may be Pamuk's most
topical novel yet. Ka, a poet from Istanbul, has returned to his native
country for a visit after 12 years in exile in Germany. When Snow begins,
he is on a bus en route to Kars, a mountain city in the "poorest, most
overlooked corner of Turkey," at the former border of the Ottoman and
Russian empires. An old friend at an Istanbul newspaper has asked him to
report on the impending municipal elections as well as an epidemic of
suicide among teenage girls, the latest of whom is one of the "head-scarf
girls," a group of young women who have been barred from the secular
university for covering their hair. In hope of reuniting with Ipek, a
beautiful former classmate who now lives in Kars, Ka agrees.
Kars is a tightly wound knot of tension between secular and religious
forces, and Ka's investigations lead him into encounters with all the
major players, including the charismatic Blue, an "infamous Islamist
terrorist" who is in hiding after issuing a death threat against a
talk-show host who insulted the Prophet Muhammad; Necip, a pious student
who hopes to become the world's first Islamist science-fiction writer; and
Ipek's sister, Kadife, the leader of the head-scarf girls. These forces
come to a head on Ka's first evening in Kars, when an acting troupe stages
a classic play called "My Fatherland or My Head Scarf." At the play's
climax, the heroine rips off her scarf and burns it, and the religious
youths in attendance begin to riot. Soldiers storm the stage, opening fire
and killing a number of the audience members.
This is the briefest possible introduction to Snow's elaborate plot,
which works its way by twists and turns through numerous digressions,
dialogues and genres. Pamuk's work is reminiscent of the great
storytelling classics -- The Thousand and One Nights, Boccaccio's
Decameron or Jan Potocki's Manuscript Found in Saragossa, with their bawdy
comedy, intricate design and mystical overtones. At times Ka plays the
traditional role of the trickster: In one brilliant sequence, he
negotiates a statement of unity between the city's Islamist, Kurdish and
socialist leaders for the sole purpose of luring Ipek's father out of the
hotel where they live, so that he can make love to her. Elsewhere he is
compared to a dervish: During his few days in Kars, he regains his
inspiration for the first time in four years, and poems come to him as if
dictated by a higher power.
The poems that Ka writes in Kars turn out to be governed by a "deep
and mysterious underlying structure" similar to that of a snowflake, and
the same is true of the novel itself. The deeper you read, the more the
symmetries multiply. Nearly every character has a double, down to the
narrator himself, who is eventually revealed to be a novelist friend of
Ka's named Orhan, telling Ka's story after his death based on information
gleaned from his notebooks. All these mirror images add up to create a
dizzying effect, which is deepened by the snow that begins to fall on the
first page of the novel and does not let up until nearly the end.
Practically a character in its own right, it blankets the mean streets of
Kars, shutting Ka and Ipek together in their hotel, casting its strange
light in unexpected places and closing the roads to all traffic in or out,
so that the city becomes a strange hothouse of nervous activity and
This disorientation is surely Pamuk's intention. But even after the
novel has come to its wrenching conclusion, the atmospheric haze is
difficult to dispel. Snow has none of the tautness of My Name Is Red; its
action moves thickly, at times impenetrably. Clarity is not enhanced by a
tone that at times jerks wildly from knowing sophistication to faux
naiveté. This is a shock after the elegant control of My Name Is Red, and
the non-Turkish-reading reviewer is inclined to blame the translator, who
is new to Pamuk's work. Nevertheless, Pamuk's gift for the evocative image
remains one of this novel's great pleasures: Long after I finished this
book, in the blaze of the Washington summer, my thoughts kept returning to
Ka and Ipek in the hotel room, looking out at the falling snow. *
Ruth Franklin is assitant literary editor of the New Republic.
LOAD-DATE: August 29, 2004
The Baltimore Sun
August 29, 2004 Sunday FINAL Edition
A disorienting account of the Turkish dilemma;
Alane Salierno Mason
SOURCE: Special to the Sun
Snow, by Orhan Pamuk, Alfred A. Knopf, 432 pages, $26.
Snow is not the first thing that comes to mind when most Westerners
think of Turkey. Americans are most likely to have encountered only the
country's Mediterranean coast, bikini-clad and by boat. So it is
disorienting from the first to enter a novel set in a provincial eastern
Turkish city in a heavy snowstorm -- only the first of the disorientations
a reader should experience in Snow by Orhan Pamuk, hailed by one critic as
"the sort of author for whom the Nobel Prize was invented."
At the time of the publication of his first novels to be translated
into English, Pamuk was described as "Turkey's foremost novelist." The
author note in Snow describes him as "one of Europe's most prominent
novelists." Herein lies the central dilemma of modern Turkey and of Snow,
a highly literary fable of the struggle of an essentially European
intellectual and social elite to understand, control or make peace with
those elements of the country that are bitterly anti-European. Ka is a
poet who has been living in exile in Germany for some 20 years. When he
returns, the radicals are no longer socialists but Islamists, and he
wavers between sympathy for their religious devotion -- as he begins
himself to feel stirrings of belief in God -- and fear of their hostility
to him and everything he represents as a secular, Westernized
The beautiful leading women in Snow are symbolic of the soul of a
nation: Ipek, bareheaded, independent, generally modern in her attitudes,
separated from an Islamist politician; and Kadife, the leader of a group
of girls barred from school for wearing headscarves as a symbol of
religious devotion -- or political protest, or personal independence. One
of these "headscarf girls" has committed suicide, part of a wave of female
suicides; and as with all symbols, the meaning of this most intensely
individual and anti-social of all acts is up for grabs, and vulnerable to
Snow reminds Ka of God and the book's narrator of the divine uniqueness
of every individual. Yet as several characters point out, "individuality"
is also a kind of idol used by the West to denigrate more communally
minded philosophies. Snow -- by closing off all roads to the outside world
-- provides cover for a military coup that turns from ludicrous theater to
real violence aimed at preventing an Islamist democratic victory in the
local elections. (The elite's sense of guilt that their freedoms are
propped up by unsavory means is a strong theme here.) Snow also represents
the timeless accumulation of historical events that has turned a vibrant,
diverse city into a depressed backwater where everyone's goal is to be
like everyone else.
A single snowflake also provides the structure for the book of poems Ka
writes in the course of the novel, and which then goes missing, making
this a book about a missing book -- one of several postmodern sleights of
hand that some readers will adore and others find irritating. The
terrorist named Blue who is a media creation; the empty chamber of a gun
that is actually full; politics as theater / theater as politics; pairings
in which people are obsessed with other, more vibrant people, their
"originals"; an unreliable narrator trying to piece a story together from
other texts; the poems that don't exist and the Islamist sci-fi novel that
is plotted but not written -- these elements make Snow a kind of
brainteaser about authenticity and the nature of reality.
The romance at the center of the book is not especially convincing as
love story, yet it is potent as allegory when Ka discovers, to his
heartbreak, that both sisters -- not only Kadife, whom he respects, but
Ipek, whom he adores -- are secret lovers of Blue. If you're reading
Pamuk's work as European literature, Snow is probably not the first of his
books to read, but as a kind of postmodern journalism of modern Turkey --
a pained report from the psychological border between East and West -- it
is highly worthwhile.
Alane Salierno Mason is a senior editor at W.W. Norton & Co. and
founding editor of www.wordswithout borders.org, an online magazine
devoted to international literature.
LOAD-DATE: August 31, 2004
The New Yorker
August 30, 2004
A modernist novel of contemporary Turkey.
Orhan Pamuk's new novel, "Snow" (translated from the Turkish by Maureen
Freely; Knopf; $26), abounds with modernist tracer genes. Like Proust's
"Remembrance of Things Past," it bares its inner gears of reconstituted
memory and ends by promising its own composition. Its hero, a poet, goes
by the name of Ka, a hard-to-miss allusion to Kafka's K., the hero of "The
Castle." Its setting, the forlorn provincial city of Kars-though kar means
"snow," Kars is an actual place, in Turkey's northeastern corner, near
Armenia; it was destroyed by Tamerlane in 1386 and occupied by Russia off
and on in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries-suggests, in four
hectic days during which the city is snowbound, the mountainous,
debate-prone microcosm of Thomas Mann's sanatorium in "The Magic
Mountain," with a lethal whiff of Dostoyevsky's unnamed "our town" in "The
Possessed." The airy spirit of postmodernism also haunts the shadows and
spiral staircases of Pamuk's intricate narrative. Like Italo Calvino,
Pamuk has a passion for pattern-making; he maps Kars as obsessively as
Joyce did Dublin and marshals the nineteen poems that Ka writes there into
the form of a diagrammatic snowflake. Not that "Snow" doesn't flow, with
suspense at every dimpled vortex. Like Raymond Queneau, Pamuk is gifted
with a light, absurdist touch, spinning out farcical plot developments to
the point of implying that any plot, in this indifferent and chaotic
universe, is farcical. He is attracted to the unreal reality, the false
truth, of theatrical performance, and "Snow," in its political aspect,
pivots on two nights of performance at the Kars National Theatre, in which
illusion and reality are confoundingly entwined.
The comedy of public events, where protest and proclamation rapidly age
into melodramatic cliche, overlays certain tragic realities of
contemporary Turkey: the poverty of opportunity that leads unemployed men
to sit endlessly in teahouses watching television; the tension between the
secularism established by Kemal Ataturk in the nineteen-twenties and the
recent rise of political Islam; the burning issue of women's head scarves;
the cultural divide between a Westernized elite and the theistic masses.
In its geography, Turkey straddles Europe and Asia; its history includes a
triumphant imperial episode under the Ottoman sultans and, after long
decline, a secular, modernizing revolution under Ataturk. Tradition there
wears not only the fez and the turban but the uniform of the
Ka, a forty-two-year-old, unmarried Istanbul native who for twelve
years has lived as a political exile in Germany, comes to Kars, which he
briefly visited twenty years ago, in order to investigate and report on,
for a friend's newspaper, a local epidemic of suicide among young women,
and to look up a university classmate, the beautiful Ipek, who, he has
learned, is separated from her husband, Muhtar. Muhtar, another old
acquaintance, is running for mayor; this election is one of the threads
that are all but buried in the subsequent days beneath a veritable
blizzard of further complications and characters. The Anatolian venue, its
deteriorating architecture poetically redolent of former Armenian and
Russian inhabitants, is populated by Turks whose names have, to an
American reader, a fairy-tale strangeness: Ipek, Kadife, Zahide, Sunay
Zaim, Funda Eser, Guner Bener, Hakan Ozge, Mesut, Fazil, Necip, Teslime,
Abdurraham Oz, Osman Nuri Colak, Tarkut Olcun, and (Ka's full name, which
he suppresses) Kerim Alakusoglu.
In his temporary role of journalist, Ka is given access to a succession
of local viewpoints, ranging from that of the deputy governor (who tells
him, "If unhappiness were a genuine reason for suicide, half the women in
Turkey would be killing themselves") and the benign religious teacher
Sheikh Saadettin Efendi to that of the outlaw terrorist Blue and Ipek's
sister, the scarf-wearing Kadife, who in the end proposes that women
commit suicide to show their pride: "The moment of suicide is the time
when they understand best how lonely it is to be a woman, and what being a
woman really means." Early in Ka's visit, Ipek tersely sums up the
situation for him: "The men give themselves to religion, and the women
kill themselves." When he asks why, she responds with "a look that told
him he would get nowhere by pressing her for quick answers." But the
question, in the course of more than four hundred pages, pales beside more
vividly animated issues: Ka's revived ability to write poems; his tortuous
campaign to persuade Ipek to marry him and join him in the marginal
existence of an exiled Turkish poet in Frankfurt; his debates with several
young students (Necip, Fazil) at the Kars religious high school over
whether or not he and other Europeanized Turks are inevitably atheists;
and, in the most farcical-tragical twist of plot, a violent Kemalist
(pro-secular, anti-political-Islamist) coup in the snowbound municipality,
engineered from the stage by the veteran itinerant actor Sunay Zaim.
Ka, who on his first day in Kars witnesses the assassination of an
education official who had forbidden head scarves, becomes increasingly
involved in many-sided intrigues and shuttles back and forth like the hero
of a thriller; but he is not believable as such, possessing, as he does, a
preoccupying ear for the poems being dictated to him by a higher power and
a constant concern with his own uncertainties. Does he believe in God or
not? Is happiness worth having? He decides, after an ecstatic interlude
with Ipek, that "the greatest happiness in life was to embrace a
beautiful, intelligent girl and sit in a corner writing poetry." But even
this unexceptional conclusion melts away under his doubts: he foresees
that in Frankfurt a "crushing, soul-destroying pain would eat away at
their happiness." And the handsome Blue, whose main terrorist activity
seems to be seducing women, assures him, "People who seek only happiness
never find it."
Dithering, reflective Ka, the embodiment of Turkish ambivalence, is, we
learn, a Gemini. He acquires a neartwin (this author has a weakness for
near-twins, for men who interpenetrate each other, like the
seventeenth-century Italian slave and his Muslim master in "The White
Castle," or like Necip and Fazil in this novel) when "Orhan the novelist"
takes on an increasingly voluble first-person voice and presence. Orhan,
it turns out, has travelled to Kars to investigate the adventures of his
friend Ka four years after they occurred. The narrative's subtext emerges
as a sophisticated and esteemed writer's aporia-his bafflement-in the face
of his nation's backwardness, superstition, and misery. What do Ka's inner
states-the bliss of intermittent inspiration, the romantic dreams of
erotic conquest, his intense nostalgia for a sheltered childhood, his
flitting sense that Islam is correct and God does exist-have to do with
the world's economic and political facts? His is the social class that
left Islam to the servants and welcomed military coups, with their cozy
curfews and radio-broadcast martial music. When Ka's friend and rival
Muhtar is beaten by the police, "Ka imagined that Muhtar had found
redemption in this beating; it might have released him from the guilt and
spiritual agony he felt at the misery and stupidity of his country." The
only lines that are quoted from Ka's nineteen suddenly inspired poems run:
Even if your mother came down from heaven to take you into her arms,
Even if your wicked father let her go without a beating for just one
night, You'd still be penniless, your shit would still freeze, your soul
would still wither, there is no hope! If you're unlucky enough to live in
Kars, you might as well flush yourself down the toilet.
The unlucky, however, protest: during a political meeting that
pathetically, comically, endearingly struggles to frame a statement for
the Frankfurter Rundschau, a passionate young Kurd cries, "We're not
stupid, we're just poor!" He goes on, "When a Westerner meets someone from
a poor country, he feels deep contempt. He assumes that the poor man's
head must be full of all the nonsense that plunged his country into
poverty and despair." The author himself, arriving at what he terms
"perhaps . . . the heart of our story," asks:
How much can we hope to understand those who have suffered deeper
anguish, greater deprivation, and more crushing disappointments than we
ourselves have known? Even if the world's rich and powerful were to put
themselves in the shoes of the rest, how much would they really understand
the wretched millions suffering around them? So it is when Orhan the
novelist peers into the dark corners of his poet friend's difficult and
painful life: How much can he really see?
Thus the aesthetic and private passions so crucial to Ka double back,
in a way, upon politics. Empathy knits a society together as well as
enables works of imagination. But do the rich and powerful, having once
imagined their way into the shoes of the less fortunate, change course and
renounce all they have, as both Buddha and Jesus advised? And would it do
enough good if they did? Is not conflict, between classes and nations
both, often between groups that understand each other all too well? They
compete for the same prize, the same land, the same control of resources.
Pamuk's conscience-ridden and carefully wrought novel, tonic in its scope,
candor, and humor, does not incite us, even in our imaginations, to
overthrow existing conditions in Turkey. When the Kars coup occurs, the
enthusiasm among unemployed youths leads to the dry authorial comment
"They seemed to think that last night's events marked the beginning of a
new age, in which immorality and unemployment would no longer be
tolerated; it was as if they thought the army had stepped in expressly to
find them jobs." Such realistic fatalism, and the poet's duty "to hear the
hidden music that is the source of all art" and to believe that "life had
a secret geometry," drains "Snow" 's ideological contests of blood. We
could care less, but not much less. Ka has a drifting, ghostly presence
that becomes exasperatingly mired in the role of negotiator, schemer, man
of action; it wasn't clear, at least to this reader, what his decisive
action, for which he suffers in the end, was. Nor is his love for Ipek,
beautiful and wise as she is conjured to be, very involving. The lovers'
exchanges have an enigmatic bleakness, traceable perhaps to Hemingway:
"I learned everything they taught us about Islam, but then I forgot it.
Now it's as if everything I know about Islam is from The Message-you know,
that film starring Anthony Quinn." Ka smiled. "It was showing not long ago
on the Turkish channel in Germany-but, for some strange reason, in German.
You're here this evening, aren't you?" "Yes." "Because I want to read you
my poem again," said Ka, as he put his notebook into his pocket. "Do you
think it's beautiful?" "Yes, really, it's beautiful." "What's beautiful
about it?" "I don't know, it's just beautiful," said Ipek. She opened the
door to leave. Ka threw his arms around her and kissed her on the mouth.
Maybe-though Maureen Freely's translation is fluent and lucid
throughout-it reads better in Turkish. If at times "Snow" seems attenuated
and opaque, we should not forget that in Turkey, insofar as it partakes of
the Islamic world's present murderous war of censorious fanaticism versus
free speech and truth-seeking, to write with honest complexity about such
matters as head scarves and religious belief takes courage. Pamuk,
relatively young as he is, at the age of fifty-two, qualifies as that
country's most likely candidate for the Nobel Prize, and the
near-assassination of Islam's last winner must cross his mind. To produce
a major work so frankly troubled and provocatively bemused and, against
the grain of the author's usual antiquarian bent, entirely contemporary in
its setting and subjects, took the courage that art sometimes visits upon
even its most detached practitioners.
LOAD-DATE: August 30, 2004
Times-Picayune (New Orleans)
September 5, 2004 Sunday
Across the divide;
Religious debates bog down this promising European-style novel that
By Kevin Rabalais, Contributing writer
By Orhan Pamuk
Translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely
Alfred A. Knopf, $26
Every once in a while, a foreign writer appears -- seemingly from out
of nowhere -- and catches the attention of the English-reading world. We
often assume that this sudden arrival indicates a new voice in world
literature, namely that the writer is young. Because of this, we find it
difficult to imagine that he had been working for years in his own
There was that "arrival" of Vladimir Nabokov, who after the 1955
publication of "Lolita" suddenly became an international sensation, though
he had been writing for more than three decades, mostly in his native
Russian before turning to English to show us native speakers the true
meaning of language skills. More recently, before he died of a heart
attack while driving, critics forecast German writer W.G. Sebald as a
future Nobel Prize winner. At the time, only two of his books had appeared
in English translation.
Orhan Pamuk, whose novel "My Name is Red" received the 2003 IMPAC
Dublin Literary Award, is such a writer -- a critic's darling, if you
will. Since the 1991 English translation of "The White Castle," Pamuk has
been compared to everyone from Marcel Proust and Thomas Mann to Jorge Luis
Borges. His novels are steeped in a highly European literary tradition and
also flooded with Ottoman history and Islam, a unique combination.
Pamuk's most recent novel, "Snow," a political and religious thriller
set in his native Turkey, begins after Ka, a poet of some international
renown, attends his mother's funeral in Istanbul. Though not involved in
politics, Ka has spent the past 12 years in exile in Germany, where he
fled after being tried for a political article he did not write. At least
this is what the narrator, a childhood friend of Ka's who reconstructs the
poet's story from various sources, tells us in the beginning.
After the funeral, Ka travels by bus to Kars, a once-important city
where he spent much of his childhood. "Being on the borders of two empires
now defunct, the Ottoman and the Russian, the mountain city also benefited
from the protection of the standing armies each power had in turn placed
in Kars for that purpose." Much of Pamuk's work, and "Snow" in particular,
resides in this type of in-betweenness, both cultural and religious.
In Kars, Ka plans to use his press pass to cover the municipal
elections and also write about "the head-scarf girls" -- students who
began committing suicide after they were barred from the classroom for
refusing to remove their headscarves. Or, as one character says, girls
barred "for flaunting this symbol of political Islam." Everything in Kars
is political, and religion is politics. Those opposed to the banning fear
that the girls will be turned into slaves of the West, while others claim
that their removal allows equality and respect.
The real reason for Ka's visit, however, is to see his former
classmate, the beautiful Ipek, recently divorced. The two meet in a cafe.
Over coffee, while reassembling the years they've been apart, they witness
the attempted assassination of the director of the Institute of Education,
the man who had initiated the ban.
Afterwards, when snow forces the local government to close off the city
from the rest of the world for three days, Ka finds himself descending
into the terrorist organization responsible for the assassination attempt.
The group's leader, Blue, believes that Ka is an agent of freedom returned
from the Godless West to tempt the oppressed. What follows is part
thriller, part political manifesto in the tradition of Dostoevsky's
"Demons." Unfortunately, however, the ideas in "Snow" -- particularly the
long and numerous religious debates -- often seem to be Pamuk's primary
concerns. Because of this, the characters frequently disappear behind the
dialogues, falling short of our expectations for them as individuals in
command of their actions.
From the opening passage, a dreamlike tone quietly arises, giving the
novel a detached voice. This is at times poetic but also logical in a
narrative told from the point of view of someone who continually reminds
us how he received his information and that he was not present during Ka's
visit to Kars. But these detachments continuously call to question the
authenticity of the narrator's perceptions. Combined with the long
religious dialogues, this often makes for slippery reading.
Pamuk, whose works have now been translated into more than 20
languages, has attained rare status among literary writers. His highly
praised intellectual novels have become international bestsellers. "Snow"
will frustrate many simply because of its abundant references to a culture
we know too little about. But the experience of reading Pamuk, who has
indeed inherited from all the writers with whom he has been compared, is
like nothing else in contemporary literature. That alone explains much of
. . . . . . .
Kevin Rabalais is co-editor of "Novel Voices" (Writer's Digest
conversations with award-winning American novelists.
LOAD-DATE: September 5, 2004
The Denver Post
September 5, 2004 Sunday
Clashes in the Middle East culture at issue In "Snow," Islamic beliefs
battle Western influences
John Freeman Special to The Denver Post
Earlier this summer, the European court of Human Rights upheld the
Turkish government's decision to ban head scarves in schools. It was a
victory for the state but unlikely to put an end to controversy. One need
only pick up Orhan Pamuk's mournful new novel, "Snow," to understand how
divisive an issue this is in Turkey.
Set between 1999 and 2001, Pamuk's tale revolves around the suicides of
three teenage Muslim girls. Islamic clerics blame their deaths on the
government because it punished the girls for wearing head scarves.
Secularists argue that the girls were just depressed and did what
teenagers sometimes do when engulfed by sadness.
The truth, of course, lies somewhere in the middle, and that's what the
novel 's hero, a Turkish poet named Ka, looks for when he travels by bus
to the remote border village of Kars. His trip echoes a journey made in
1829 by the Russian poet Pushkin, and as it turns out, Ka is an even less
faithful reporter than his Russian counterpart. He is distracted by an
unrequited crush he nurses for a woman he barely knows. As a former exile
born to money in Istanbul, he is also desperately aware of his outsider
status in this provincial town.
Reading "Snow" can be a disjunctive experience, then, because the
reader's attention and Ka's attentions are so often at odds with one
another. While tensions ratchet upward toward a revolution, Ka drifts
through town in a somnolent haze, dazzled by a heavy snowstorm. As the
flakes drift down, muffling gunshots across town, cries for help, Ka
wanders into tea rooms to jot down poems before they dissolve like
snowflakes on his jacket sleeve. Maintaining distance, obviously, is his
As the novel progresses, however, Ka is forced out of the amniotic bath
of his artistic remove. He witnesses an Islamic hit placed on a government
minister. Knowing that he must maintain at least the pretense of
journalism to remain in Kars, Ka interviews the families of the head-scarf
girls, as they are called, the boys who became infatuated with them and
the Islamic leaders inflamed by their deaths. With the help of a
philosophical young boy, Ka visits a dashingly mysterious Islamic
fundamentalist named Blue. Like many other characters in this book, Blue
wants an Islamic Turkey, and he's willing to do what it takes to make that
Alternating between the snowstorm's hush and philosophical
conversations that are reminiscent of Dostoyevsky's great novels, "Snow"
proves a surprisingly gripping read. And a timely one, too, given France's
ruling on head scarves and events in the Mideast. Pamuk has claimed in
interviews he is not a political writer, but he will have difficulty
defending that position with "Snow," which dramatizes many of the issues
facing the Middle East today including the separation of church and state,
poverty, the role of the military, women's freedoms, modernization and the
influence of the West.
Unfortunately, the book's compelling side drama of a writer struggling
to remain apolitical is nearly occluded by all these sociological and
political points of interest. It's a burden Pamuk, who won the IMPAC Prize
for his novel "My Name is Red" labors under to a certain degree. To
non-Turks, his books are first and foremost windows into Turkish culture.
In time, it would be nice to have the pleasure of reading "Snow" not
simply as the political novel it certainly is, but as a work of art.
John Freeman is a writer in New York.
By Orhan Pamuk; translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely
Knopf, 400 pages, $26
LOAD-DATE: September 7, 2004
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
September 5, 2004 Sunday Home Edition
East, West meld in acid 'Snow'
SOURCE: For the Journal-Constitution
Snow. By Orhan Pamuk. Translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely.
Knopf. $26. 448 pages.
The verdict: Turkish Alice down a rabbit hole.
Nations, being arbitrary political constructs, have their
contradictions and paradoxes. But few are more paradoxical than Turkey:
the westernmost part of Asia, the easternmost part of Europe, where Roman
emperors built churches that Ottoman emperors turned into mosques, a
country of Muslims in whose 20th-century revolution women were ordered to
take off, rather than put on, the veil.
The work of the distinguished Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, winner of
several international literary prizes, embodies the rich creative tension
between the Occidental and the Oriental, the secular and the sacred, cable
TV and the call of the muezzin. It's as if Franz Kafka, Milan Kundera,
Naguib Mahfouz and Scheherazade all got together to collaborate.
Ka is a not-very-productive poet from Istanbul, living in exile in
Germany. He returns to Turkey for his mother's funeral, then decides to
travel to the far-off border city of Kars, lately notorious as the place
where a series of devout girls have committed suicide, supposedly because
they were forbidden to wear head scarves in school.
In addition, Kars is the home of Ka's old flame, Ipek. Ka cherishes
romantic notions that he and Ipek might fall in love and get his creative
juices flowing again. While he's at it, he figures he'll write something
for the Istanbul newspapers about the "headscarf girls."
But Kars, stuck in a corner of Turkey that has been controlled at
different times by Armenians, Russians and Kurds, isn't merely on the
border of disputed territories but on the border between past and present,
the magical and the real.
Once Ka checks into Kars' Snow Palace Hotel, he walks through the
looking glass into a topsy-turvy world where strict Islamists watch
Mexican TV soap operas, young men martyr themselves over a girl's hair and
the local paper prints the news before it happens.
Pamuk slyly and expertly plays with stereotypes --- the tortured poet,
the Muslim militant, the mysterious woman --- in a setting that always
threatens to topple over into the symbolic. No one is what he or she
seems, at least during the great snow that keeps falling and cuts the city
of Kars off from the 21st century itself.
Pamuk himself is a character in the novel, relating the story of his
friend Ka the way you would a long, off-the-wall fairy tale, narratively
doubling back on himself with wry digressions and philosophical
deconstructions of love, predestination and history.
"Snow" is witty and, like the fiction of Kundera, Calvino or Borges,
"Snow" is clever; it's acidly funny, too. Pamuk is an equal opportunity
satirist, skewering the politics both of the westernized Turks and the
Islamists. One of Ka's old friends, Ruhi, works "as a test subject in a
study measuring the effectiveness of an advertising campaign for a new
type of lamb pastrami pizza marketed to Turkish workers in the lowest
income bracket." In the New Life Pastry Shop, a fundamentalist lectures
the head of the Kars Institute of Education on women and the Quran before
he shoots him:
"As the American Black Muslim professor Marvin King has already noted,
if the celebrated film star Elizabeth Taylor had spent the last twenty
years covered, she would not have had to worry so much about being fat.
She would not have ended up in a mental hospital. . . . Why are you
Ka is on a quest. He wants to win the gorgeous but elusive Ipek, he
wants to solve the mystery of the "headscarf girls" and penetrate the
enigma that is Kars itself. Ka is also a Turkish Alice down a rabbit hole,
where he learns to believe many more than six impossible things before
breakfast. Such as that the difference between the Islamists and the
secularists isn't always clear. And that language itself wields not mere
aesthetic power but can act like a spell or a curse, directing the course
of events. Kars doesn't simply veer between the magical and the real; it
is, like Looking Glass Land, a place of inversions.
The snow that keeps falling is at once natural and supernatural: It
covers up the tracks of assassins and muffles the sound of gunfire, and it
turns provincial Kars into an enchanted city where anything is possible.
The Border City Gazette, the local daily, isn't just a small-town rag; it
seems to predict, even shape, the news. Serdar, the
owner-editor-publisher, runs a story that says Ka will give a public
reading of a new poem, well before Ka even thinks of writing one. Later,
the paper reports a murder before it happens. Time in Kars is out of
joint. Or maybe it takes a different, nonlinear shape.
"Snow" is in some ways more fable than novel. Ka, Ipek, the would-be
revolutionary Blue are characters reported rather than felt: The reader
remains at arm's length from all of them. But Pamuk keeps you engaged
throughout the intricacies of his story. It is, as he points out himself,
like a snowflake, more beautiful and complex the closer you look.
Diane Roberts teaches English at the University of Alabama.
LOAD-DATE: September 5, 2004
September 6, 2004 U.S. Edition
An Empire Of Stories
By Malcolm Jones
Turkey's tortured history inspires two fine novels
Turkey is a novelist's dream, or perhaps a land dreamed by a novelist.
A border country between Europe and the Middle East, it has for centuries
been so many things to so many people--Christians, Muslims, Armenians,
Greeks, Kurds and, of course, Turks--that it has become a place where
fantasies and realities collide like tectonic plates. Everybody has a
story, and, as two new novels set in Turkey demonstrate in their radically
varying tales, every story is startlingly unique.
In "Birds Without Wings," Louis de Bernieres tackles a piece of Turkish
history with the same vigor that he used to sketch World War II Greece in
"Corelli's Mandolin." But this is a darker book, with nothing like its
predecessor's central love affair to soften its tragedy. Near the novel's
beginning, de Bernieres introduces Philothei, his fictional village's most
beautiful woman, about whom one character says she "reminded you of
death," because to look upon her was to know that "everything decays away
and is lost." Like Eskibahce, the village she inhabits, Philothei is
notable for nothing but her beauty; both are doomed. By the end of "Birds
Without Wings," Eskibahce has been decimated by World War I and its
aftermath. What had been a patchwork paradise of ethnicities--Greeks,
Turks and Armenians--is gone, sacrificed for modern Turkey, forged by the
ruthless, charismatic Kemal Ataturk out of the ashes of the Ottoman
Empire. The Greeks have been exiled, the Armenians slaughtered. Those who
remain are too impoverished and war-weary to know what hit them.
De Bernieres takes his cues from Tolstoy--his characters' stories are
always played out against the scrim of history. The Turkish novelist Orhan
Pamuk is more a Kafka man. "Snow" takes place in the 1990s in the
far-eastern Turkish village of Kars. And while the story, packed with
nationalists, socialists and militant Islamists, has a superficial
currency, its reality is dreamlike. Snow falls for most of the novel,
isolating the town, where a poet, called Ka, has come to investigate a
series of suicides by teenage Muslim girls who refuse the secular
government's order to remove their headscarves. Artistically blocked for
years, Ka, a Westernized sophisticate, suddenly begins to write poetry
again. He falls in love so deeply that he begins to betray
everything--even his own scruples--to preserve his happiness. Because he
believes in nothing beyond his own desire, he is marked for tragedy.
De Bernieres is so inventive--celebratory but never sentimental--that
he is the more beguiling of the two novelists. But Pamuk is the more
profound. At the end of "Snow," a young man says to the narrator, "I'd
like to tell your readers not to believe anything you say about me,
anything you say about any of us. No one could understand us from so far
away." By refusing to condescend to his characters--by just showing them,
not explaining them--Pamuk endows even the most reprehensible figures with
dignity. Like de Bernieres, Pamuk never generalizes. In their indelible
novels, every tragedy wears a different face.
LOAD-DATE: August 31, 2004
Detroit Free Press
September 12, 2004 Sunday 0 EDITION
Novel has action, insight, wit for serious reader
Review by Charles Matthews
Haunting and edgy, Orhan Pamuk's "Snow" is a novel by a writer who
takes the novel seriously, as a vehicle for exploring ideas and examining
the predicament of the world. It's a book with action and intrigue, witty
insights and lively characters, but it's also a work with a moral and
symbolic complexity that makes most contemporary fiction look thin and
The protagonist is a poet known as Ka (the initials of his full name,
which he dislikes), who has returned to Turkey after 12 years of exile in
Germany. A friend who works for an Istanbul newspaper persuades Ka to
write a story about the numerous suicides by teenage girls that have taken
place in the remote city of Kars, in eastern Turkey near the border with
Armenia. Ka accepts the assignment when he hears that an old girlfriend,
Ipek, now lives in Kars.
Ka winds up snowbound in Kars, which is the nexus of all manner of
ethnic, religious and political tensions. The suicides, for example, seem
to be provoked by the secular government's attempt to ban head-scarves --
Ka is told that the girls, devout Muslims, killed themselves in protest.
But the Muslims issue their own denunciations of suicide as a sin, adding
to the enigma that is Kars, which has an other-side-of-the-looking-glass
quality to it.
It's a place where the newspaper often goes to press with reports of
events that haven't happened yet. (Ka reads a poem at a public meeting,
even though he hadn't planned to and hadn't even written the poem, in part
because the newspaper has already printed a story about the reading.) It's
also a place where a theatrical production turns deadly because the rifles
carried on stage contain live ammunition.
Ka witnesses an assassination, interviews an Islamist terrorist,
becomes the object of police suspicion and falls deeply in love with Ipek,
all of which serves to bring him to life for the first time in many years:
He begins writing poetry with a new fervor. (Cunningly, Pamuk never lets
us read any of Ka's poems.)
Fittingly, Ka's name echoes that of Kars, the city that vivifies him
but also puts his life in jeopardy. Moreover, the Turkish word for snow is
"kar" -- the book's original title, and no doubt one of the many nuances
lost in translation. But the name also suggests Kafka's protagonist known
as K. -- pronounced "ka" in German. And there is something Kafkaesque
about Ka's experiences, even before he goes to Kars: Though "he had never
been very much involved in politics," Ka had fled Turkey after the
military coup of 1980, to avoid going to jail "for a hastily printed
political article he had not even written." Politics has a way of
swallowing up the uncommitted, and isolation turns places like Kars (and
many others around the globe) into political vortices.
"Snow" is the seventh book by a writer who evidently believes, like the
great novelists of the 19th and early 20th centuries, that fiction can
make a difference -- morally and politically. He even courts comparison to
such writers, beginning his book with epigraphs from Conrad, Dostoyevsky
and Stendhal, a daunting company to say the least. But he shares with them
a vision of human beings shaped by external forces they can't control and
by interior drives that they choose not to control. This is serious
fiction for serious readers.
CHARLES MATTHEWS writes for the San Jose Mercury News.
LOAD-DATE: September 12, 2004
September 17, 2004
Orhan Pamuk Novel (Knopf, $ 26)
Orhan Pamuk does not hold back. In his seventh novel, the Turkish
author addresses Love, Religion, Politics, and many other big-letter
themes as he dissects the ideologies that threaten his native land. Ka, a
42-year-old poet who has not written in many years, returns to Turkey
after years of political exile. Ostensibly there for his mother's funeral,
Ka journeys to the border town of Kars to investigate a rash of suicides
by Muslim girls banned from school for wearing their head scarves, while
also planning to convince Ipek, an old crush, to run away with him. A
proxy for Turkey itself, Ka is torn between Islam and atheism as he
experiences a streak of poetic inspiration he attributes to God. Crammed
with empathetic characters fervent in their beliefs, Snow abounds with
political intrigue while remaining lushly tragic at heart. A-- --Gilbert
GRAPHIC: COLOR PHOTO
LOAD-DATE: September 10, 2004
The Weekend Australian
September 18, 2004 Saturday All-round Country Edition
BOOKS BEHIND THE NEWS
Uneasy marriage of East and West
TURKEY drew back from the brink of making adultery a crime, fearful it
would jeopardise its chances of being admitted to the EU, whose members
will decide that issue on October 6. The complexity of life in modern
Turkey is the stuff of best-selling Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk's new
novel, Snow. Christopher Hitchens, in The Atlantic Monthly noted Turkey is
"physically and historically, the 'bridge' between East and West" and that
with his previous novel, My Name is Red, Pamuk "himself became a kind of
register of this position". The new book deals with the trials of Kerim
Alakusoglu, who returns from Germany to live in Kars, on the
Turkish-Armenian border, a place shaken by an epidemic of suicides by
young girls distraught at not being allowed to wear the Muslim veil.
Poverty is ever-present and other voices include Kurdish separatists,
political Islamists and secularists. Pamuk said in Ankara's Turkish Daily
News: "When an author in the West writes about the ordinary elements of
life -- the pain, the sorrow, the happiness he sees around him, it is
characterised as a story of humanity. But when an author from a country on
the periphery does the same thing, he is perceived as having voiced ethnic
* Crescent and Star by Stephen Kinzer (Saint Martin's Press, $30).
Acclaimed journalist's view.
* The Emergence of Modern Turkey by Bernard Lewis (Oxford Uni Press,
$65). By a respected academic.
LOAD-DATE: September 17, 2004
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