Thursday, May 04, 2006


Snow, by Orhan Pamuk, is wonderfully evocative and extremely complex.

Snow is the most recent selection of the Reading Matters book group. I'd previously read Pamuk's My Name is Red (set in 16th-century Istanbul) — I particularly enjoyed the philosophical discussion of the nature of art and how Eastern and Western attitudes toward art differ, although the novel's structure felt contrived. Snow, set in modern times, touches on similar themes but goes well beyond them, to touch on pretty much everything.

Snow is quite obviously the prevailing motif of Snow. It works to isolate the city of Kars (roads are closed), while something dark metaphorically falls over it. Snow makes it picturesque, temporarily obliterating its squalor (which makes itself felt otherwise). Our hero in snow recaptures childhood, innocence, God, peace. Snow's crystalline structure is the inspiration for a series of poems Ka writes; the novel has its own geometry. While the snow falls Kars is suspended from reality; the first half of the novel itself freezes time, relating events that occur over about a day. Then the thaw, the ugliness, the hidden workings; time becomes fluid again.


For a plot summary, see the reviews:

Margaret Atwood's review.
(Some comments on that review.)

The Literary Saloon has its own review along with a comprehensive list of others.

For my thoughts on more specific aspects of the book, see Reading Matters.

I particularly like the characterizations of Snow's minor players. They're complicated products of circumstance and ideals, sometimes weird, riddled with contradictions and failures, larger than life, but all still sympathetic and believable.

Turgenev's Father and Sons is mentioned a few times in Snow. I think I actually read it for school but remember nothing of it. I suspect these two novels have a closer relationship than anyone has yet discussed: the struggle with tradition and national identity, revolution in the air.

See also:

Discussion at Bookninja Magazine.

The NY Times Reading Group discussion includes some informative points (and links to other sources) on the following:
-Turkish history, Turkey's relationship to Europe and specifically Germany.
-The issue of headscarves, both in relation to Turkey and to Islam.
-The metafictional aspects of the novel, how the narrator's intrusion works to complement the tensions of the novel and underscore the theme of the significance, impact, and place of art.

What all these reviews and discussions highlight for me is just how big Snow is. While they raise fascinating points on Turkish history, Islam, religious state vs secularism, tradition vs modernity, East vs West, the nature art, art & politics, women in Islam, women vs men (in how both events and emotions are processed), love, God, betrayal, revolution, national identity, memory, failure, shame, metafiction, and purity, I still come away with the feeling the surface of this novel has been barely scratched.

1 comment:

aditisen said...

I love all of Pamuk's work, I haven't read a writer like him for a very long time. I agree with you although I thought Snow was a much simpler book than My name is Red and The New Life.