Over the course of a few snowy days in a little town in Turkey we watch as a Poet regains his gift, a Coup overthrows the local Government, and Radicals of all sorts talk about how much they hate The West. Snow is a view into a world that is both changing and standing perfectly still. A place where poverty and torture are normal everyday events. A place where young girls who are forbidden from wearing their headscarves have been committing suicide.
Not surprisingly, Orhan Pamuk’s cast of characters have names unlike any I am familiar with. There is a good deal of talk about some once great Turkish leader named Ataturk I have never heard of. There are foods and drinks-such as Raki, which are all beyond my experience. For all their strangeness, I can still identify, at least a little, with the love struck poet Ka, who is the story’s hero. For who among us has never been in love?
I find Snow wonderfully entertaining, as it keeps surprising me by dragging my Western Self out of the role of reader and into the role of participant. While listening to the horrid conditions of this horrid place called Kars, I find myself thinking good old fashioned imperialist thoughts. If only we could build a couple of Starbucks and a Home Depot, then everything would be better. Then, just as I am thinking these thoughts of Nation Building, one of the characters will complain about how Westerners all want to come in and change everything and make it like the West. Clearly the speaker does not think this would be a good idea, so I am forced to ponder, why wouldn’t it be a good idea?
The novel is setup as a long story being told by a friend. A friend that can’t help but give away bits and pieces that are just too juicy to wait for their proper time and place. The foreshadowing takes the form of future past perfect-His beautiful green eyes, one of which would be shattered by a bullet in 47 minutes, stared intently at Ka. Like the opening sentence of 100 Years of Solitude, a little of this goes a long way. I soon tired of the narrator telling me what was going to happen and who was going to die and then returning to the mundane business of storytelling.
If Snow is my only window into the world of Turkish men, then it is a world I am glad to steer clear of. They are a cold and murderous lot in the small town of Kars. Or they are cowards hiding in their basements. Or they are rebels waiting for their own chance at murder and revolt. The women are victims who refuse to admit to being victims. Everyone sits around drinking Raki and staring out the window at the huge snowflakes.
There are two beautiful sisters in the story, each a perfect woman in her own way. Our sad sack poet falls in love with both of them at one point or another. He is amazed by their eyes, their faces, their large breasts, and by the fact that one of the sisters is willing to run back to Germany with him. He falls madly in love in their bodies, so much so that he later finds a porn star who resembles the sisters and he buys all of her tapes.
Germany is mentioned often in the story, apparently every Turk that wants to escape Turkey ends up in Germany. The Germans do not seem to be amused by this. Germany also represents The West in the story, as the poet Ka is supposed to be a reporter for a German Newspaper. This leads to all kinds of debates as to what, exactly, this tiny flyspeck of a town should say to The West.
Snow’s format ultimately defeats me. The entire story being told as a long series of flashbacks within flashbacks and its endless predictions about what is going to happen, what has already happened, and how our poor narrator becomes tangled within his own tale by following in Ka’s footsteps and falling in love with one of the Sisters himself.
In the end it’s the story of an unimportant man, writing unimportant poems, and dying a meaningless death. The window into the desolate little town of Kars is one that is best left closed. The larger theme of the dangers of Islam taking over the world is pushed to one side, and ultimately forgotten. All the larger ideas are ignored as the novel shrinks to one man’s obsession and then slides past this man and rambles on into pointlessness. Snow had a lot of potential, but it lost its way.