Snow, by Orhan Pamuk

SnowSnow by Orhan Pamuk

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 Germanyjust 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.

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10 thoughts on “Snow, by Orhan Pamuk

  1. This review is such a relief! Pamuk is quite popular in India, and I felt compelled to try Snow this summer. But I couldn’t get into, which almost never happens – I’m the type of person who will stick with an awful book or movie come hell or high water. I didn’t go around specifically looking for other people who didn’t like the book, but having been assailed by reviews that trumpeted the book’s virtues, I was a little worried that my brain wasn’t working. Stumbling upon this post has removed some doubts about my abilities to read. Whew!

    • I read this book because my gf was reading it in German, so I thought it would be nice. I have heard of Pamuk, and was interested. I am also the type who sticks with a film/book–I watched the whole of “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and I thought I was gonna lose it.

      Many of the reviews on Goodreads did not cast “Snow” in the best light, but I wanted to like it. Like I wrote, that one part about puppy just killed it for me. I’m glad you liked the post. Thanks for the comment! Btw, I love Indian authors. Jhumpa Lahiri is one of my favorites. Also, Thrity Umrigar, Jasbir Puar, and Inderpal Grewal. Any recommendations for me?

      • Two of my favourite books ever are Anandamath by Bankim Chandra Chatterji and The Village by the Sea by Anita Desai (they’re both young adult novels, so they might not be your speed). I also really like Amitav Ghosh (The Hungry Tide is a good first book to read) and, of course, Vikram Seth’s classic A Suitable Boy. What do you like about Jhumpa Lahiri? I don’t know what to think about her work (I’ve only read Interpreter of Maladies), but I think my ambivalence might have something to do with the fact that I read her at the same time I read The Great Gatsby for school, and realised that sometimes, things are labeled terrific just because they convey a sense of melancholy.

      • Great recommendations! Thank you so much. And I have read a few YA novels in my time, but more classics (Dahl, Baum, etc.), so I will check out the suggestion.

        As far as Lahiri is concerned, I can remember the moment I first read “A Temporary Matter”–the first in her collection “Interpreter of Maladies”. It was almost 10 years ago, and I recently selected it for my 20th Century Lit course. I read it wholly different now, but I still find it incredibly hopeful and redeeming.

        I tend to be interested in novels that deal with complex moral issues, and novels featuring migrants and generation of migrants. I haven’t quite figured out what that appeal is for me, but I am still examining it. Lahiri deals with the latter in a beautiful way. Her elder characters were usually academics, so that has its appeal, who navigate the world of tradition vs. education, and her younger characters are usually rebellious with a core of a strong moral guidance against their very own rebellion. I first read “The Namesake” because I was heavily into Nikolai Gogol at the time, and her protagonist’s first name is, well, Gogol. I expected something more literary, but found an endearing story instead.

        Also, I would love your opinion on Gatsby. I was not impressed, but I read it much later in life than a high school requirement–which is when most people first encounter it.

  2. I’ve spent the last two days looking through all my high school stuff, trying to find my notes on Gatsby, to no avail. I don’t remember it very well – I remember disliking it – and I wanted to have concrete reasons for my dislike, but I guess now I’ll have to borrow it from the library. Or, because I know I only got through it the first time because I had to, maybe I won’t force myself through it again. I remember thinking it was very self-indulgent. I’m sorry I have nothing intelligent to say.
    The only story I really enjoyed in “Interpreter of Maladies” was “Mrs. Sen’s”. That sense of extreme isolation, of desperate, crawl-out-of-your-skin unhappiness, of complete and utter alienation – all incredibly well drawn. I tend to like stories about people dealing with life that happens to them. It’s clear that Mrs. Sen is only in America because Mr. Sen decided they were moving; and then what? He has a purpose, but what does she have? Memories of a now-dead life in which she once had agency.

    • Oh, Mrs. Sen, I can recall the details of the food preparation so very well. Lahiri does well with this sacrificial portion that accompanies the migrant figure. I always feel unfamiliarity, longing, and the contesting of a strange newness with her characters. I think what is characteristic of her writing is that her characters deal with existential trauma, rather than social trauma, e.g. racism, of say a “White Teeth” or “Anita & Me,” that comes with the British migrant experience.

      I would def recommend “The Namesake”. I have also ready “Unaccustomed Earth” and the style has a quaint postmodern feel, in that the story lines jump and jumble about.

  3. I have to agree with you. I read “Snow” at the same time I read Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s “The Shadow of the Wind.” If you are familiar with “Shadow,” you may understand why I was never certain if I disliked “Snow” on it’s own account, or if my impression was exaggerated by the contrast between these novels.

    Plot can make poor writing a worthwhile diversion, not worthwhile literature. Because of this view, I’ve always felt lack of a plot I enjoyed was not a worthy enough reason to dislike a novel. Perhaps I was wrong…

    Thanks for the review!

  4. Pingback: Snow by Orhan Pamuk « Books not computers

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