Orhan Pamuk’s novel is a surreal, emotional, and engaging way to encourge readers to consider real-life issues faced by the citizens of Kars, Turkey. It includes history, politics, culture, and religion, never leaving out captivating scenery and humanity which keep readers constantly absorbed. Through the protagonist, Ka’s journey into Kars, located on Turkey’s Armenian border, readers experience its architecture, diverse Turkish cultures and ethnicities,severe weather and poverty stricken back streets which give Kars its character. This combination of factors make Kars the perfect setting for Pamuk’s tumultuous and touching novel: Snow.
Pamuk explores the perspectives of both “insiders” and “outsiders” and the ideologies that go along with those views. The text searches for answers to questions about a suicide epidemic plaguing a city and a nation, which actually occurred in Batman, Turkey. The author uses compelling and complex issues as a mode of character examination for three important figures whose disconnections with others lead them to search for missing pieces of themselves. The associations that can be made between insider/outsider perspectives, suicides, disconnections, and dangerous consequences that can arise from the lack of understanding become key elements in relation to the novel.
Ka, a Turkish writer, is visiting from the West to investigate a story he has heard: headscarf girls have become famous by refusing to remove their headscarves, which are symbols of “political Islam.” From the beginning it is made clear to Ka by the community that he is not welcome in Kars, especially since the community does not want news of the suicides publicized more than they already have been. When Ka meets Blue, an Islamic fundamentalist, Blue is angry at Ka for trying to understand the struggle of the suicide girls. Blue says Ka could never comprehend their perspectives. Blue doesn’t want to open up to Ka about the issues occurring in Kars for fear Ka will misinterpret the situation and communicate the story to the West under false pretenses. Ironically, without a firsthand account of the girls’ stories and Blue himself, the “outside” or Western world already receives a blurred vision of life in Turkey.
There is a complex and widely debated history concerning Islam, the government in Turkey since Ataturk’s rule, and how women have been affected. In commanding the girls to remove their headscarves, the state has- in turn- handed over political power the girls don’t realize they possess, at first. Perhaps the answers to their suicides lie in simple theories, but in reality, they are much more complex and virtually unexplainable by anyone but the girls themselves. This is something Pamuk reminds the reader as he involves Ka in a romantic relationship with the beautiful Kadife. When she explains that headscarves are about pride, the notions Ka developed about headscarves from speaking to people in Kars are altered.
Throughout the novel, the suicide girls are portrayed as a misunderstood group by the entire Kars community. Neither the people of Kars, nor the narrator, have any insight into the real thoughts and feelings of the suicide girls until Kadife’s performance at the National Theater with Sunay. Finally, Pamuk provides answers in her dialogue from a girl on the brink of hanging herself. At the same time, she reminds the audience of the individuality of the girls who chose to take their own lives. Kadife proclaims, “The main reason women kill themselves is to save their pride. At least that’s what most women kill themselves for.”
“You mean they’ve been humiliated by love?”
“You don’t understand a thing!” said Kadife. “A woman doesn’t commit suicide because she’s lost her pride, she does it to show her pride.”
“Is that why your friends committed suicide?”
“I can’t speak for them. Everyone has her own reasons. But every time I have ideas of killing myself, I can’t help thinking they were thinking the same way I am. 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.” Obviously Kadife knows she cannot necessarily speak for every girl, yet the significance of a girl speaking out before it’s too late is tremendous. Not only has Kadife taken the role of the leader of the headscarf girls, she has the power to make a difference in the eyes of the people of Kars with her words and actions.
Each character appears to have a problem connecting with others in some way, which leads to an ultimate misunderstanding of the individual. This phenomenon is a statement about the inability of people everywhere not only to make strides to come together regarding religion and politics; these characters have deficiencies connecting on basic levels, which creates the impossibility of coping with life’s most difficult issues.
Ka asks the citizens of Kars for an “insider” perspective in regards to the community. He wants to know the citizens’ personal opinions and what they would project to the readers of his story if they had the opportunity. At the end of the Snow, Fazil explains to Ka what his final message to the West would be involving the utter lack of understanding facing the people of Kars. Fazil says, “If you write a book set in Kars and put me in it, 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.” It’s possible that Fazil believes that the Western world could never fathom a single aspect of life in a city where the people remain trapped by a relentless blizzard and a government seeking to control their every political and religious belief. While the people of Kars don’t trust those in the West to understand their stories, they also don’t want to give people like Ka, who were born in Turkey, and wish to help tell the truth about them a chance to become “insiders.” The fact of the matter of the remains, even the people living in the community possess no answers to the problems facing Kars, even they are too far away.
This novel includes more positive aspects than a reader can ask for in a text. It is historically, politically, religiously, and culturally relevant, but these components are not what makes it outstanding. It’s a contender for the best novel I have ever read for other reasons. Very few books make a reader want to stop and re-read line after line due to the brilliance and beauty of the prose. I feel incapable of expressing the manner in which the author interweaves plot, theme, symbolism, and setting to create the perfect execution of a story. Read this novel and you will fall in love with it and Orhan Pamuk!
Final Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Arkoun, Mohammad. Rethinking Islam. Common Questions, Uncommon Answers. (Trans.) Robert D.Lee. Boulder: West View Press, 1996.
Ugur, Mehmet and Canefe, Urgis. Turkey and European Integration: Accession Prospects and Issues. London: Routledge, 2004.