My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I hurried through this text—halfway through already dreaming and scheming of my next novel to read—and skimmed the last ten pages. There are two elements to Ohran Pamuk’s “Snow” I find quite good, yet not enough to redeem it from an “it’s ok” rating. Because it is just that: “ok”. But before I dive in to those two elements, let’s start with the point in the novel where I gave up.
Eighty pages from the end, there is a crucial moment in one of the many themes wrestling for supremacy in this novel that is simply awful. Yet it is still worth consideration due to the simple feeling that I am being tricked. First off: Spoiler Alert. [The following paragraph gives a crucial plot point away. Read at your own risk, or skip down one paragraph.] Ipek reveals to Ka that she was once Blue’s mistress while she was married to Muhtar. By this point, Ka and Ipek are in Love, or Infatuation, whatever you decide. The point is that since the opening pages, Ka has been obsessed with this woman. And now. Now he finds out she had an affair with the Islamic fanatical who is now dating Ipek’s sister, and she confesses that she still is in Love with him, but can “learn” to love Ka. After 363 pages, I expect Drama. I expect Love, with a capital “L”. I expect Romance, young infatuation, Sex, Infidelity, etc. But here is what proceeds after Ka asks Ipek what is it about Blue that makes him so special.
Ipek replies, in standard dramatic fashion:
“‘First, let me say that the only man I could ever live with is the man who could listen to what I am about to say and still find it in him to love me… He’s very compassionate, Blue, very thoughtful and generous… He doesn’t want anyone to suffer. He cried all night once, just because two little puppies had lost their mother.'” (364)
And it ends. Both her description of her never-dying love for Blue ends, and my interest in this novel ends. What a waste of a perfectly good story. But here’s the thing: either Pamuk is being purposefully sardonic with this puppy crap, or he is in earnest. If it is the former, then for shame Ohran Pamuk. For shame for leading your readers after 363 pages to this tripe conclusion. For shame for playing with the grand notion of Love after making it so crucial to your novel. If it is the latter, then you are a poor writer Ohran Pamuk, and surely undeserving of the golden promotional stickers that adorn your novels (or the blurb by Margaret Atwood of all people!).
Spoiler complete. There are four themes that are battling for supremacy within this novel, and because of this, none of them are given justice. The first is Love, which I have already discussed above. The second is politics and religion, which are interesting elements to this novel until the second half where they lose their hold. Third is the author’s often annoying intervention that confuses the reader who wants this to be the construction of an autobiography, or a novel about Ka. (Which is it?) The fourth is what kept me interested, and is one of the two elements I enjoyed about this novel. It is Ka’s poetry. Throughout the novel, Ka will find immediate respite in the midst of elaborate dinners, love making sessions, and meeting with terrorists to write poems. This, to me, seems to be an accurate representation of a poet: someone who listens to and for poems and transcribes in the moment or it is gone, not someone who forces poetry out of him or her at various opportunities. But I’m sure there are many other novels representing the poet figure that are not entrenched in numerous dreadful plot lines.
My last point of interest, and the second element I enjoyed, is the story of the Turkish migrant in Germany. I wish this was explored more. Germany (read: The West) is an essential off–camera character. It is needed as the secular, hedonistic, self-indulgent imagined opposition to Kars, Turkey, and so it is ever-present. After spending months in Germany—just outside Frankfurt—over the past year and a half, I have seen Turkish grocery stores open on German holidays, and watched Turkish children playing late into the night in the streets of Turkish neighborhoods. And I have seen the other side: Germans who are boldly, and often unconsciously, anti-migrant. Germans who perform petty, cowardly, underhanded criminal acts (popping bike tires in Turkish neighborhoods) to indiscriminate immigrants under the cover of night. Germans who hate/fear/loath/fail to understand/empathize the migrant and their life. And conversely, Germans who are sympathetic, cosmopolitan, interested, friendly, and courteous to the immigrant experience.
This novel has peeked my interest in the negotiation of that space, and I shall seek it in the better narratives of better authors. But I leave Pamuk’s “Snow” uninterested in any other work by this author—and that is a bold disappointment for any author.