Review: Snow by Orhan Pamuk

Snow is a political thriller novel written by Nobel prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk; who also wrote one of the great masterpieces of the twentieth century, in my view, called My Name is Red which was one of the primary books which, when translated into English, brought him under the radar of the Nobel Committee. With the publication of My Name is Red and its wonderful translation which won the IMPAC award, it was clear that Pamuk was the novelist who examined if not crossed or lessened the gap between the East and the West. The analysis stands true and since then, in multiple and dynamic ways, Pamuk, the novelist has written novels of varying themes in order to present a pure and promising portrait of the bridge between East and West. Pamuk has classified himself as a postmodernist author and a great one too in his own right; one who belongs to the landscape of great realist writers such as another Nobel prize-winning legend Naguib Mahfouz, who wrote the masterly and beautiful Cairo Trilogy.

Pamuk was already a global novelist in the eyes of the literary media; he had transformed into something of a celebrity in the Arab world and outside. Most of his masterpieces were written till that point, and he had achieved as much literary merit and intellectual commendation from the global literary world that he was one of the greatest novelists of his time. Snow came out in the year 2002 in Turkish, then, got translated into English in the year 2004. No one had expected at that point that Snow, the recent work written to define the relevant gap between East and West would form a fundamental part of his entire oeuvre. Snow is indeed regarded as one of Pamuk’s most thrilling works in the English language besides My Name is Red. It received praise from Atwood and John Updike and many other famous reviewers.

The novel created a buzz in the western world and proved to be provoking, thrilling and invigorating yet annoyingly enlightening for some who wished to shroud themselves in propaganda and extreme right-wing view of the Islamic and Arab world. Indeed, Pamuk has written a controversial novel and justifiably so because in this novel, he doesn’t go back to the Sufi-ism of the artistic world but strikes back and presents his strong and assertive views about the relevant political issues such as the headscarf attire in Islamic culture and the devotion to God and tenets of western atheism. This was bound to provoke and annoy and irritate readers and critics from both sides of the world.

The plot begins with the arrival of Ka in the city of Kars, where women are committing suicide in large numbers due to the political shifts in the small city. There he meets with Ipek, his old flame and sweetheart, and intends to marry her soon for she is divorced from her previous marriage with Muhtar, Ka’s old friend. Soon, the reader is introduced to a broad set of characters such as Blue, Kadife (Ipek’s sister), Necip, Fazil, Sunay Zaim, Funda Eser, Turgut Bey (Ipek’s father), Sardar Bey and the narrator. The stage is set for a haunting confrontation; Pamuk’s masterful novel brings out enlightening and shocking dichotomies between East and West.

It has all the elements of a twenty-first-century Turkish novel; the issue of the headscarf, deification of religious Gods, worship to divinity, atheism, reason, poetry, art, morality and the theme of loneliness and melancholy set against the backdrop of Pamuk’s Turkey. Pamuk, as in his earlier novels, is a master of world-building; every street, every tea-shop, coffee-shop, bar or houses, offices and mosques are outlined beautifully, almost poetically one may say. His unique portrayal of deep melancholy and loneliness in the characters and within the landscape itself is masterly and wondrous.

The novel is aptly titled; snow is used as a metaphor to signify a link between Germany and Kars. It also develops the cold, haunting sense of alienation and political urgency, which is the driving force for this novel. Ka’s lost masterpiece is itself titled Snow; which further develops into a novel by a character in the book. The scientific diagram of snow is drawn and inculcated into Ka’s poetry. As a natural phenomenon, Pamuk uses physical descriptions of snow in repetition throughout the book and creates passages of lyricism out of the slanting snowfall. Often haunting, this sense of scenery is not unique to Pamuk for he is a novelist who creates a fictional and imaginary world from settings usually known to us. In a way, Istanbul appears as a world away from our world; a world of our dreams where the evening light reflects the falling snow and the burial of the once-prosperous town

Snowfall cuts of Kars from the rest of the world for its routes are blocked. Kars is buried deep in the snow, and the political shift is piling upon the coldness; the heavy scent of tension and urgency hovers in the air above people caught up in the web of politics, religion and love verging on vengeful envy. Through the lens of postmodernism, Pamuk skillfully opens up the borders of his world to shed new light on the humanity of the third world.

As always, Pamuk shows his brilliant and mind-bending storytelling skills to craft a novel reminiscent of Borges, Calvino and Eco. It is a confrontational book which will divide, unite, invigorate and irritate readers from the Muslim world and the Western world. However, one thing is for sure, Snow is a brilliant and relevant novel which reveals more than a novel usually does; for its allegories, metaphors and inferences are well drawn out. In times of perennial conflict, Orhan Pamuk’s novel carries a message of shortening the gap between the East and the West and restore peace to this world. This novel is a celebration of courage and triumph of postmodernism.

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