Snow

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Overview

"Following years of lonely political exile in Western Europe, Ka, a middle-aged poet, returns to Istanbul to attend his mother's funeral. Only partly recognizing this place of his cultured, middle-class youth, he is even more disoriented by news of strange events in the wider country: a wave of suicides among girls forbidden to wear their head scarves at school. An apparent thaw of his writer's curiosity - a frozen sea these many years - leads him to Kars, a far-off town near the Russian border and the epicenter of the suicides." No sooner has he ...
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Overview

"Following years of lonely political exile in Western Europe, Ka, a middle-aged poet, returns to Istanbul to attend his mother's funeral. Only partly recognizing this place of his cultured, middle-class youth, he is even more disoriented by news of strange events in the wider country: a wave of suicides among girls forbidden to wear their head scarves at school. An apparent thaw of his writer's curiosity - a frozen sea these many years - leads him to Kars, a far-off town near the Russian border and the epicenter of the suicides." No sooner has he arrived, however, than we discover that Ka's motivations are not purely journalistic; for in Kars, once a province of Ottoman and then Russian glory, now a cultural gray-zone of poverty and paralysis, there is also Ipek, a radiant friend of Ka's youth, lately divorced, whom he has never forgotten. As a snowstorm, the fiercest in memory, descends on the town and seals it off from the modern, westernized world that has always been Ka's frame of reference, he finds himself drawn in unexpected directions: not only headlong toward the unknowable Ipek and the desperate hope for love - or at least a wife - that she embodies, but also into the maelstrom of a military coup staged to restrain the local Islamist radicals, and even toward God, whose existence Ka has never before allowed himself to contemplate. In this surreal confluence of emotion and spectacle, Ka begins to tap his dormant creative powers, producing poem after poem in untimely, irresistible bursts of inspiration. But not until the snows have melted and the political violence has run its bloody course will Ka discover the fate of his bid to seize a last chance for happiness.

Orhan Pamuk: Winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature

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Editorial Reviews

Margaret Atwood
This seventh novel from the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk is not only an engrossing feat of tale-spinning, but essential reading for our times.
The New York Times Sunday Book Review
Ruth Franklin
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.
— The Washington Post
Richard Eder
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.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
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. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
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 Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
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 signifiescleansing, 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. Author tour. Agency: Wylie Agency
From the Publisher
“Astonishingly timely . . . A deft melding of political intrigue and philosophy, romance, and noir.” —Vogue

“Not only an engrossing feat of tale-spinning, but essential reading for our times.” —Margaret Atwood, The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375706868
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/19/2005
  • Series: Vintage International Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 188,980
  • Product dimensions: 5.12 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

Orhan Pamuk
Orhan Pamuk was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006. The author of The Museum of Innocence, Istanbul, and My Name Is Red, he lives in Istanbul and New York City.
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Read an Excerpt

I N T R O D U C T I O N
By Margaret Atwood

Just as Turkey stands at the crossroads of the Muslim East/Middle East and the European and North American West, so Orhan Pamuk’s work inhabits the shifting ground of an increasingly dangerous cultural and religious overlap, where ideologies as well as personalities collide. It’s no exaggeration to say that you have to read Pamuk if you want to begin to understand what’s going on in people’s hearts, minds and souls in such a world. In Turkey, he is far more than a novelist: people rush to read his novels as if he’s a kind of sure-fire prophet, or a hugely popular singer, or a national psychoanalyst or a one-man newspaper editorial page. There is nothing programmatic about his novels; he simply writes out of the center of the whirlwind both his characters and his Turkish readers feel swept up in every day.

Where is Turkey going? How will it come to terms with its once glorious, often troubled history, and resolve the conflict between old and new, and handle the power struggle between secularists and Islamists, and find self-respect, or peace of mind, or inner wholeness or a new direction? Pamuk’s novels don’t provide cut-and-dried solutions, but they follow the tortuous lines of such questionings with anguished and wrenching fidelity. Sometimes his characters are almost literally torn apart by choices they don’t know how to make, but are forced to make. His power as a novelist stems in part from his refusal to judge the choices his characters make: their tragedy is that no matter what path they take, they can’t be at ease; and, worse, some other element in their society is bound to condemn them.

Although it’s set in the 1990s and was begun before 9/11, 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 twelve 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 head scarves, but this is only one of his motives. He also wants to see Iÿpek, 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 Atatu¨ rk, founder of the Turkish Republic and instigator of a ruthless ‘‘modernization’’ campaign, which included – not incidentally – a ban on head scarves.

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 head-scarf 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 to encounter.

In Snow 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 Dostoevsky and Conrad, and would include Kafka, Borges, García Márquez, 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.

There are two strong female characters in Snow, the emotionally battered Ipek and her sister, the stubborn actress Kadife. In addition, there’s a chorus: the head-scarf 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 everyday routines.’’ 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 formof 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.

Pamuk gives us what all novelists give us at their best: the truth. Not the truth of statistics, but the truth of human experience at a particular place, in a particular time. And as with all great literature, you feel at moments not that you are examining him, but that he is examining you. ‘‘No one could understand us from so far away,’’ says a character in Snow. Reader, it’s a challenge.

Margaret Atwood

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Reading Group Guide

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

“Not only an engrossing feat of tale-spinning, but essential reading for our times.” —Margaret Atwood, The New York Times Book Review

The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group’s conversation about Orhan Pamuk’s brilliant novel Snow, which is at once a political thriller, a romance, and an examination of the profound religious and political dilemmas that beset the people of modern Turkey.

1.

Almost immediately after the novel opens, the narrator speaks in first person directly to the reader and concludes his interjection of Ka’s “biographical details” with the statement: “I don’t wish to deceive you. I’m an old friend of Ka’s, and I begin this story knowing everything that will happen to him during his time in Kars” [p. 5]. Later, during his report of Ka’s conversation with Necip, the narrator says of Necip, “With a childishness that amazed Ka, he opened his large green eyes, one of which would be shattered in fifty-one minutes” [p. 134]. With these direct statements of the narrator’s foreknowledge, what happens to the fictional conventions of plot and suspense? How does learning that the narrator’s name is Orhan, and that he’s written something called The Black Book [p. 425], affect the reader’s reception of the story?

2.

Ka’s mood at the beginning of the story is dreamlike and nostalgic: “As slowly and silently as the snow in a dream, the traveler fell into a long-desired, long-awaited reverie; cleansed by memories of innocence and childhood, he succumbed to optimism and dared to believe himself at home in this world” [p. 4]. Does Ka remain in this state of optimism and seeming innocence throughout his stay in Kars? As an exile, he is moved by a sense of returning home; does he make a mistake by believing himself at home enough to become involved in the affairs of Kars?

3.

While Ka and Ipek are having coffee in the New Life Pastry Shop, they witness the murder of the director of the Institute of Education. Discuss the conversation between the Institute director and the young man who has been sent to assassinate him [pp. 38–48]. What are the elements that make the scene so effective?

4.

The brief history of Kars on pages 19–21 describes a place at the crossroads of “two empires now defunct,” which has seen “endless wars, rebellions, massacres, and atrocity.” Despite Kemal Atatürk’s westernizing ideology (reinforced brutally by the military), Kars is sunk in poverty and hopelessness; its bourgeoisie has fled. Muhtar says, “The city of Kars and the people in it—it was as if they weren’t real. Everyone wanted to die or to leave. . . . It was as if I’d been erased from history, banished from civilization” [p. 53]. How has the town’s history shaped its inhabitants’ ideas about themselves and their future?

5.

Ka’s conversations with Muhtar, Blue, the boys from the religious high school, Sheikh Efendi, and Kadife [chapters 6, 8, 9, 11,13] explore the gap between traditional Islam and Western secularism. How do these conversations affect Ka’s sense of his spiritual condition? How strongly does he need to identify himself as a secular intellectual, and why is the possibility of his own belief in God, which he admits to, so unsettling to him?

6.

Karl Marx said, “Hegel remarks somewhere that history tends to repeat itself. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce” [The Eighteenth Brumiare of Louis Bonaparte]. In the novel’s most farcical and tragic moments, theatrical impresario Sunay Zaim and his allies the military police stage their own intervention in the history of Kars. Does Pamuk, in these episodes so central to the story, seem to share Marx’s pessimism?

7.

Blue tells a story from the ancient epic Shehname: “Once upon a time, millions of people knew it by heart. . . . But now, because we’ve fallen under the spell of the West, we’ve forgotten our own stories” [p. 78]. What does he imply when he asks Ka, “Is this story so beautiful that a man could kill for it?” [p. 79]

8.

At least three different perspectives are given on the suicide girls. The deputy governor tells Ka, “What is certain is that these girls were driven to suicide because they were extremely unhappy. . . . But if unhappiness were a genuine reason for suicide, half the women in Turkey would be killing themselves” [p. 14]; Ipek says, “The men give themselves to religion, and the women kill themselves” [p. 35]. Kadife argues that women commit suicide to save their pride [p. 112]. Does the novel provide an answer to the mystery of why women are killing themselves?

9.

Speaking with Muhtar, Ka says, “If I were an author and Ka were a character in a book, I’d say, ‘Snow reminds Ka of God!’ But I’m not sure it would be accurate. What brings me close to God is the silence of snow” [p. 60]. Why does the snow make Ka think of God? How do Ka’s thoughts about his own religious beliefs change throughout the novel?

10.

In getting involved with the various factions in Kars, does Ka act on his own behalf, or as the pawn of others? Is he actually, and knowingly, a double agent? As the plot progresses and Ka is moving back and forth between rival groups, what becomes most confusing? Does the reader’s experience mirror Ka’s spiritual and moral bewilderment?

11.

When he travels to Kars, Ka enters another world: “Raised in Istanbul amid the middle-class comforts of Nisantas . . . Ka knew nothing of poverty; it was something beyond the house, in another world” [p. 18]. In the meeting at the Hotel Asia, a Kurdish boy says, “I’ve always dreamed of the day when I’d have a chance to share my ideas with the world. . . . All I’d want them to print in that Frankfurt paper is this: We’re not stupid, we’re just poor! And we have a right to want to insist on this distinction” [p. 275]. Later, Orhan asks, “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?” [p. 259] Why are these statements so central to the problems of empathy and ethics presented in the novel?

12.

Does the epigraph from Dostoevsky—“Well then, eliminate the people, curtail them, force them to be silent. Because the European enlightenment is more important than people”—sum up the West’s arrogant approach to fundamentalist political movements? How is it relevant to the events in Kars?

13.

Everyone in Kars watches television constantly; they even use the television to watch the coup as it takes place just outside their doors. Given the deliberately theatrical nature of the coup, the uncertainty as to whether the soldiers’ bullets are real, and Sunay’s death onstage during the second performance, what does Pamuk suggest about the relationship between history and fiction, reality and illusion?

14.

Does Ipek love Ka, or does she still love Blue? Does she betray Ka by not going to Frankfurt with him [pp. 388–90]? In an unsent letter, Ka wrote to Ipek, “I carry the scars of my unbearable suffering on every inch of my body. Sometimes I think it’s not just you I’ve lost, but that I’ve lost everything in the world” [p. 260]. Was it foolish of Ka to think that he would be able to have the happiness that love provides? Why does Ipek decide not to go to Germany with him?

15.

“Once a six-pronged snowflake crystallizes, it takes between eight and ten minutes for it to fall through the sky, lose its original shape, and vanish. . . . Ka decided that snowflakes have much in common with people. It was a snowflake that inspired ‘I, Ka’” [pp. 375–76]. The poems that Ka writes in his green notebook while in Kars (kar means “snow”) align with the points on a snowflake. These poems, however, are never recorded in the novel. How seriously should a reader take Ka’s efforts as a poet? What is the significance of the fact that the poems are not available to the reader, but instead we have a novel called Snow?

16.

In several of his novels, Pamuk has created characters who are doubles or alter egos. Here he gives us Ka and the narrator as well as Necip and Fazil. Late in the story, the narrator follows Ka’s trail on a reading tour through various German cities; he wished “to do exactly as Ka had done on his own tour seven weeks earlier. . . . I would wander through the cold empty city and pretend I was Ka walking the same streets to escape the painful memories of Ipek ” [p. 378–379]. Upon following Ka’s trail to Kars, he notes, “I shouldn’t want my readers to imagine that I was trying to become his posthumous shadow” [p. 380]. What do these statements imply?

17.

How is Kadife different from her sister Ipek ? What motivates her to go onstage and bare her head in Sunay’s play? Is she a devout Muslim, or is wearing the headscarf simply a costume necessary for her love affair with Blue?

18.

Reexamine Necip’s story [pp. 104–7] once you’ve reached the end of the novel. Has Necip’s tale foreseen the revelations about the narrator and his love for Ipek, as well as Fazil’s marriage to Kadife? How does Necip live on after his death? How does Ka?

Orhan Pamuk Reader’s Companion
 
Orhan Pamuk was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006, the first Turkish author to receive the award. He is the overall bestselling author in his homeland and his books have been published in more than fifty languages. This guide is designed to help you explore Pamuk’s world and writings, whether your group chooses to read all of his works or to focus on his acclaimed novels or engaging nonfiction titles.
 
Born in Istanbul in 1952, Pamuk grew up in a well-to-do, Western-oriented family. As a child he attended private schools and dreamed of becoming an artist. He began his studies at Istanbul Technical University in architecture, but at the age of twenty-two switched to journalism, taking the first step in his career as a writer. Pamuk’s first novel, Cevdet Bey and His Sons, the story of three generations of a Turkish family, was published in Turkey in 1982. The White Castle, the first of his novels to be translated into English, takes place in seventeenth-century Constantinople (as Istanbul was then called) and explores the meeting between East and West, a theme that recurs throughout Pamuk’s writing career. The White Castle also introduced a deeper, more personal interest, one that imbues in his works of fiction and nonfiction alike: the relationship between dreams and reality, memory and imagination.
 
In his early years as a writer, Pamuk spent five years in residence at Columbia University, where he now holds a position as a visiting professor. In the autobiographical profile he wrote for the Nobel Prize committee, Pamuk reflected on his time as a visiting scholar at Columbia and the influence that had on his evolution as a writer: “I was thirty-three years old . . . and asking myself hard questions about who I was, and about my history. . . . During my time in New York, my longing for Istanbul mixed with my fascination for the wonders of Ottoman, Persian, Arab, and Islamic culture” (copyright © The Nobel Foundation, 2006). For much of those five years, Pamuk devoted himself to writing The Black Book, a strikingly original novel that weaves multiple voices and beguiling stories about Istanbul, past and present, into a modern-day detective story.
 
In his next novel, The New Life, Pamuk once again transformed the conventions of mystery into an intellectual adventure, creating a world in which a mysterious book, a fleeting romance, and conspiracies real and imagined wreak havoc on a university student’s life and his sense of identity. Set in the sixteenth century, My Name Is Red revisits Turkey’s rich and complex Ottoman past in a fascinating tale about the impact of Western art and aesthetics on an Islamic society that stifled individual creativity and strictly prohibited the creation of representational paintings.
 
As Pamuk’s fame grew throughout the 1990s, journalists in Turkey and abroad looked to him for elucidation on the political situation in his homeland and its relations with the West. Troubled by the changes occurring in Turkey, Pamuk wrote Snow, his first overtly political novel. A thought-provoking, witty, and balanced portrait of the rise of political Islamism, Snow was widely read and discussed in Turkey and became an international bestseller. The Museum of Innocence, Pamuk’s newest work of fiction, examines the nature of romantic attachment and the mysterious allure of collecting as it traces a wealthy man’s lifetime obsession with the lower-class woman he had loved and abandoned as a young man.
 
Collected essays, articles, and autobiographical sketches
 
Now in his late fifties, Orhan Pamuk lives in Istanbul in the same apartment building he grew up in. His deep attachment to the city is beautifully captured in Istanbul: Memories and the City, a combination of childhood memoir and journey into Istanbul life through his own eyes and those of painters and writers (including European visitors like the German artist Antoine-Ignace Melling and the French writers Gérard de Nerval and Gustave Flaubert); enhanced with photographs, it illuminates the personal and artistic influences on his work. Other Colors showcases the range and depth of Pamuk’s interests. There are short, lyrical pieces about his personal life collected under the apt and intriguing title “Living and Worrying”; critical essays on literary figures such as Dostoevsky, Camus, Nabokov, Vargas Llosa, and Rushdie, along with assessments of several of his own novels; and commentaries on a wide variety of political and cultural matters. A captivating collection, Other Colors provides fresh insights into the mind and imagination of one of today’s most notable writers.
 
A political drama and the recognition of Pamuk’s contributions to literature
 
In an interview with a Swiss newspaper in February 2005, Pamuk denounced the Ottoman massacre of millions Armenians in 1915 and the slaughter of thirty thousand Kurds in Turkey during the 1990s. His comments caused a furor in Turkey: several newspapers launched campaigns against him and he was officially charged with the crime of “publicly denigrating Turkish identity.” Facing death threats, Pamuk moved abroad. He returned to face a trial and the possibility of three years of imprisonment; the charges were dropped on a technicality in January 2006. The incident reverberated internationally, highlighting the conflict between anti-European nationalism in Turkey and the government’s campaign to join the European Union. It exposed, as well, the simmering distrust of—and sometimes blatant hostility toward—Muslim populations in the United States and Europe.
 
In awarding Orhan Pamuk the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006, the Swedish Academy said, “In the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city, [Pamuk] has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures.” Pamuk’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, “My Father’s Suitcase” (Other Colors, pages 403–17), offers a more personal explanation of why he became a writer and what he hopes to accomplish:
 
It was only by writing books that I came to a fuller understanding of the problems of authenticity (as in My Name Is Red and The Black Book) and the problems of life on the periphery (as in Snow and Istanbul). For me, to be a writer is to acknowledge the secret wounds that we carry inside us. . . . My confidence comes from the belief that all human beings resemble one other, that others carry wounds like mine—that they will therefore understand. All true literature rises from this childish, hopeful certainty that all people resemble one another.
 
For discussion
 
1.     Have Pamuk’s books changed your perceptions of Turkey? What insights do they offer into the country’s history and place in the world? 

2.     Have his books given you a deeper understanding of the Muslim world? Have they altered your opinion about the current situation in the Middle East and other parts of the world where Islam is the dominant religion? Have you become more or less sympathetic?

3.     Pamuk’s novels range over a wide span of time, from the sixteenth century (My Name Is Red) to the present day (Snow). Compare your reactions to the historical novels and the contemporary works. Which do you prefer and why?

4.     In these books what impact do the tensions between Eastern and Western beliefs and customs have on individual lives, on the relations between classes and ethnic groups, or on political debates? What competing ideologies (or ways of thinking) affect the characters’ behavior and emotional responses? Consider the ethical, religious, and social dilemmas individuals face and how they resolve them.

5.     Snow is prefaced by epigraphs from Robert Browning, Stendahl, Dostoevsky, and Joseph Conrad. How does each of them apply not only to Snow, but also to the other Pamuk books you have read? Citing specific passages, how would you characterize the author’s feelings about Western attitudes toward the Muslim world?

6.     What role do perceptions—or misperceptions—about Islamic law and religious customs play in the assumptions Westerners make about Muslims? Are there current controversies in the United States or Europe that support your view?

7.     Do Pamuk’s depictions of the relationships between men and women conform to your impressions of romance, marriage, and family life in a Muslim society? How are women presented in the historical novels? In what ways do the women in the novels set in the present (or in the recent past) embody both traditional female roles and the new opportunities they have to express their opinions and act on their beliefs?

8.     Istanbul opens with an essay about Pamuk’s feelings as a child that “somewhere in the streets of Istanbul . . . there lived another Orhan so much like me that he could pass for my own twin, even my double” (page 3). Many reviewers, including John Updike, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, and Charles McGrath, have written about what McGrath calls “an enduring Pamuk preoccupation: the idea of doubleness or split identity” (New York Times, October 13, 2006). Can you find examples of doubleness in the books you have read, and if so, what do these add to the story? What insights do they reveal about Pamuk’s own sense of identity?

9.     What techniques does Pamuk use to bring his characters, real and fictional, to life? How do his descriptions of settings, manners, and other everyday details enhance the portraits he creates? What use does he make of humor, exaggeration, and other stylistic flourishes in his depictions of particular situations, conversations, musings, and arguments?

10.     Pamuk employs many of the literary devices associated with postmodern and experimental fiction. (McGrath, for example, notes his use of “narratives within narratives, texts that come alive, labyrinths of signs and symbols . . .”). In what ways do his books echo Italo Calvino’s allegorical fantasies? What do they share with the writings of Jorge Luis Borges and other magical realists? What aspects of his literary style can be traced to earlier masters of innovative fiction like Kafka and Nabokov?

11.     In an essay on the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa in Other Colors, Pamuk writes, “It is clear . . . that there is a sort of narrative novel that is particular to the countries of the Third World. Its originality has less to do with the writer’s location than with the fact that he knows he is writing far from the world’s literary centers and he feels this distance inside himself” (page 168). Discuss how this manifests itself in Pamuk’s own works, as well as the works of Vargas Llosa and other authors writing from the Third World. Are there creative advantages to living and writing “far from the world’s literary centers”?

12.     Pamuk writes in Istanbul of authors who left their homelands—Conrad, Nabokov, Naipaul: “Their imaginations were fed by exile, a nourishment drawn not through roots, but through rootlessness” (page 6). If you have read the works of these writers, or other authors in exile, do you agree that their books reflect—in style or in content—the effects of living in a new, foreign culture? To what extent is Pamuk’s writing rooted in the storytelling traditions of Eastern cultures? In what ways does it show the influence of his early exposure to Western literature, his participation in international literary circles, and his longtime association with American academia?

13.     Despite the many differences between the societies Pamuk describes and our own, why do his characters and their behavior resonant with contemporary English-speaking readers? Are there aspects of Turkish mores that make it difficult to sympathize or engage with the characters in the novels? Do these factors also influence your reactions to his autobiographical pieces, literary criticism, and cultural observations in both Other Colors and Istanbul?

14.     How does Pamuk’s personal history, as well as the plots of some novels, mirror the complicated history of Turkey? Consider such topics as: the decline and dissolution of the once powerful Ottoman Empire; the sweeping changes initiated by Atatürk in the 1920s; the conflicting desires to preserve Turkey’s distinctive heritage and to become more active in the global community; and the rise of fundamentalist Islam throughout Middle East today.

15.     In discussing the importance of novels, Pamuk says, “Modern societies, tribes, and nations do their deepest thinking about themselves by reading novels; through reading novels, they are able to argue about who they are” (Other Colors, page 233). Do you agree? What can novels provide that nonfiction books and other media do not?
 
Suggestions for further reading
Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy; Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions; Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities; Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss; Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground; Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum; Franz Kafka, The Castle; James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; Milan Kundera, Immortality; Naguib Mahfouz, The Cairo Trilogy; Gabriel García Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera; Vladimir Nabokov, Ada; V. S. Naipaul, A Bend in the River; Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past
 
Pamuk’s works are available in Vintage paperback editions (listed here in order of their first translation into English): The White Castle; The New Life; My Name Is Red; The Black Book; Snow; Istanbul; Other Colors; The Museum of Innocence

 
(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com)

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 57 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 57 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2008

    Magical realism bogged down by repetitive themes.

    I came to regard the novel Snow by Orhan Pamuk as a work of magical realism, due largely to the titular weather that serves as a backdrop to the story. It creates a nocturnal atmosphere of mystery, fantasy and enchantment that frames the events in the novel. Kars, the Turkish border city that serves as the setting, is isolated by deep and perpetual snow. You can imagine the city contained in a snow globe that, when shaken¿well¿ you get the picture. The central character, Ka, comes to Kars as a journalist to cover an epidemic of suicides of young women who, upholding Islamic law, refuse to bare their heads. Many of the accolades sited in the Vintage edition of Snow refer to it as a political novel. But this is hard to swallow because the major events are not political as much as burlesque social and cultural upheavals. The novel¿s central conflict is between the modern secular government and traditional Islamic values. That orthodox Islamic women cover their heads with scarves, while contemporary secular values encourage them to bare their heads, becomes the central emblem of this conflict. The setting of the situations in this novel are clearly defined, but it¿s the characters that are hard to pin down. They glide through the story like ghosts. They lack physical definition¿except to note a woman¿s enormous breasts¿and exist almost wholly as psychological beings. This and the fact that the characters are consumed by their own romantic and spiritual passions have resulted in some critics considering this a Dostoevskian novel. And as with Dostoevsky, the author/narrator makes appearances to guide us through the story. So, is Snow a good read? The other night my wife asked me what it was about. I answered that it was about two hundred pages too long. Conversations and situations are repeated throughout the novel. The original premise of the secular v. the devout is diluted by recycled conversations about the meaning of belief, atheism, love and radical Islam, many of which take place in crowded tea houses, of which there are apparently many. I may have the disadvantage of a cultural divide, but Snow becomes, for all of its provocative early setup, an arduous read. This is not a happy novel and the greatest joy it delivers at the end is that, well, you¿ve actually finished the damn thing. Oh, and there is the happy presence of a small dog. Wasn¿t there such a dog in Brothers Karamazov? And is the payoff that people are as individual as snowflakes, as surmised by the author? Is this all the heft this novel has? This is, after all, a story within a story. The author, whose intrusions into the story line are sparse at first, goes full blown at the end and it becomes his story, not Ka¿s. Perhaps you¿ll do as I did. Be intrigued that Orhan Pamuk won the Nobel Prize, wonder why this is so, and take on the challenge of reading Snow. And if you get through the thing, you may look back on a shadowy experience populated by ethereal characters.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 9, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    dull dull dull

    Drab. Boring. Flat. Snow was one of the most uninteresting books I've ever read. I couldn't relate to any of the characters or situations. The plot, though it sounds interesting, was very dull and frankly it just couldn't keep my attention. Blah!

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2007

    Snow fell short.

    While I found the contrast of East & West most interesting, the book was a laborious read. Yes, it portrays the differences in cultures quite well, but seemed to plod on at a painfully slow pace.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2005

    Intense

    I recently finished up 'Snow' by Turkish author Orhan Pamuk and thought it was exceptional. The first half of the book has a great deal of detail as he's introducing all of the characters--and all of the conflicting ideologies swirling in the town of Kars--and though it slowed my reading speed, it was very thought-provoking and informative. I also saw several parallels with our current situation here in the US. The pace picks up in the second half of the book, though it is equally intense from a psychological and philosophical point of view. Ka the poet (the main character) is a multi-faceted, well-developed character who will live on in my thoughts and imagination for years to come. The issues the book addresses are numerous, and yet they need to be numerous since one of the main points of the book seems to be that such myriad issues DO impact on our lives to varying degrees, even when we try our hardest to ignore them. Try as we might, there is no escape from the role of religion in society, the degree of free speech the government allows, the accommodation of neighbors with differing opinions, fate versus free will, personal happiness versus social responsibility, the worth of the arts and artists, the importance of romantic love...and even our utter inability to control the weather. This is definitely one of the BEST books I have read in a long time. (And thank you, Mr. Pamuk, for constanly referring to 'those Armenians' and 'that Armenian thing' and trying to bring the tragedy to light without getting yourself thrown in jail by your government which still won't admit to it's act of genocide.)

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2005

    a gem

    this book is not for everyone. the plot does not move quickly and linearly; like all of Pamuk's work it takes it's time and travels in circles, each cirle getting closer and closer to the mark, unfolding new joys as it goes. you must appreciate this style of writing and seeing the world to appreciate this book and his others - if you're looking for fast paced action and simple plot, you will probably be frustrated, as the first reviewer was. this book is to be relished and enjoyed; and there is nothing wrong or lost in the translation. each book this author has written builds on the last, and you wonder if he's constructing a kind of massive snowflake poem of his own, over decades of novels...

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 16, 2010

    Different

    I bought this book due to the favorable review given its author, Orhan Pamuk, by Paul Theroux in his own book, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star. It is an interesting read if for no other reason that it exposes the reader to the works of a non-traditional author. This was my first reading of Turkish literature of any kind, and while I found the story awkward and "different," it was a worthwhile read to get a different spin on writing styles, themes and stories. My one take-away, however, was not so nice - that men in particular in many non-Western countries are VERY childish and immature, even when they are well past their 20s.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2009

    WHAT IS THE MESSAGE?

    The author is on target with today's world. The world is darkening. There is no free will. The people are consumed with one another. It is best to know the enemy and how they think so if you want to be prepared for end times I suggest you read this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2006

    Frustrating

    The narrator of Snow is an awkward mix of limited omnipotent and first-person. A personal friend of the main character, Ka, the narrator ricochets between his own thoughts and Ka's, claiming to be able to get into Ka's head by virtue of the notes he left behind from his trip to Kars. Reading the asides and editorial inserts from the narrator is like listening to a ninety-year old woman tell a story. The book cannot decide where its allegiances lie: is it political, intellectual, literary, or spiritual? Pamuk unsuccessfully tries to combine all four of these elements, resulting in a lengthy drawn-out tale by the end of which the reader cares more about the charcoal-colored dog who occasionally makes an appearance than he does about the characters proper.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2004

    I challenge you to stay awake

    Reviewers of Orhan Pamuk seem to fall into two categories: those who find his work breathtakingly brilliant; and those who find it distant, overly-intellectualized, and downright dull. As much as I'd like to belong in the first category, there's no denying I'm smack-dab in the second. This, despite the fact that I consider myself a patient reader and have long been fascinated by Pamuk's native Turkey. The book's central character is a poet named Ka. Its setting is the Turkish frontier town of Kars. What falls throughout the book is snow, which, translated in Turkish, is 'kar.' Ka, Kar, Kars. Hmm. Let this be your first warning that you are deep in the throes of post-modernist art. The plot of 'Snow' is drawn straight from the headlines of Turkey today. Religious young women, pressured by the State to take off their headscarves, are committing suicide. While Pamuk has plenty of value to say about this and other issues challenging this nation on the crossroads of East and West, the problem is how he goes about saying it: ''Does your father have to be out of the hotel for you to get into bed with me naked?' asked Ka. 'Yes. And he hardly ever leaves the hotel. He doesn't care for the icy streets of Kars.' 'All right then, let's not make love now. But let's kiss some more,' said Ka. 'OK.' Ipek leaned over Ka, who was sitting on the edge of the bed, and they enjoyed a long and sensual kiss.' Ooooooo-kay. Maybe it's not fair to blame Pamuk since his prose must first be dragged through the filter of translation. Is it really possible to create elegant English from Turkish -- a language rich in suffixes but poor in vocabulary, with paragraph-length sentences that run, from the western perspective, precisely in the wrong direction? Perhaps not. But so what? 'Snow' is boring. It's boring in the same way that 'The White Castle' was boring, and in the same way that 'The New Life' was boring (and incomprehensible). And there's no excuse for boring. Great novels inform -- but great novels also entertain. This is not a great novel. Once again, Pamuk gives the reader a blizzard of ideas, accumulating to remarkable depth. But reader beware -- this just makes for a long, cold slog.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2004

    somehow difficult to follow but overall breathtaking

    Well, Snow by Orhan Pamuk. What a big promise for us. I have been eagerly waiting to read his next book just after My name is Red. His excellent style has been getting further more than one step in each book. This is not a historical story, just pure reality! His trademark 'the conflict about the difference between east and west' now shines in another city; Kars, situating on the far north-east of Turkey. His search for identity and reality leads to curiosity. This is about what it means to be western/eastern. The main character Ka, a middle-aged poet actually, returns to Istanbul to attend his mother's funeral and learns the strange events in eastern Turkey: Suicides is getting popular among girls forbidden to wear their head scarves at school and that makes him travel to Kars, a small city near the Russian border. The author describes Kars in a poetic way, after Ottoman and Russian glories, the city was totally abandoned by West. He finds Kars in poverty surrounding by political Islamists, Kurdish separatists idealist students, left-wing theater groups and of course their ideologies. Orhan Pamuk has a remarkable reputation all around the world. This book seems somehow so Turkish. You may find difficult to read and follow particulary some of the events, however the unique style of Pamuk makes the story awesome. One more tip for the non Turkish readers; there is a word game in this book. Ka (The name of main character), Kar (it means 'Snow' in Turkish) and Kars (the name of the city). Breathtakingly intelligent.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2014

    Team Selcric

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 17, 2014

    Snow

    SNOW!!! TODAY SCHOOL IS CANCELLED!!! We got dumped with a whole bunch of snow and it's melting while its snowing because we are sopose to get snow on Wed. Or thurs. But on both of those days it is going to be in the 40s and we are sopose to get snow!!!! Righ now its a big slushy mess outside!!! MOTHER NATURE WHAT'S WRONG WITH U!!! U GIVE US SNOW AND THEN U MAKE IT MELT!!! But the good sign is that there is about 28 more days untul spring though. But we are still going to have SNOW!!!!!! ATLEAST we probably won't get snow on May 2nd unlike last year. THAT WAS HORRIBLE!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2013

    Icepelt

    Someone pass out in camp hurry!!! *Runs out*

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2013

    Twilight

    He poppe out of her nest* "i just kidding!" She churred and fluffe her feathers

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 20, 2013

    Angelfeather

    I do! I was just busy!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2013

    A brilliant work of art--the falling snow caresses the character

    A brilliant work of art--the falling snow caresses the characters, often blinding them as well. The last line of the novel soars, lending grace and humility to this work.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2013

    Ivy and Turtle

    Ivy looks around and smiles as she scents all the things around her.<br>
    Turtle pads alongside Ivy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2013

    Fearlesskit

    The amber shekit pads in and looks around

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2013

    Snowclaw

    I think tjey are in the next result

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2013

    Two of midnight's kits

    Twillight, who looks like graystripe, is starving and nudges his brother, scooter. He looked like firestar. Scooter was dead and twillight was burieing him.

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