Both Snow and Orhan Pamuk came highly recommended by multiple people. Pamuk, being a nobel laureate, had me looking forward to being completely enamored and in awe of the book. Instead I was left pretty confused. I really like Pamuk’s style of writing, though it did take me a few chapters to get comfortable with it. The story as a whole felt empty. The entire time I was reading Snow, I felt like there was something I just wasn’t gettin. This was frustrating but also made it harder to read. Feeling like I wasn’t smart enough to understand the many layers of the story was disheartening and at points I wanted to give up reading Snow. While I have a basic understanding of Turkish history and politics, it wasn’t enough for me to fully appreciate the depth of the novel.
The story follows an exiled Turk who lives in Frankfurt, named Ka. Ka returns to Istanbul for his mother’s funeral. He ends up visiting a small Turkish town Kars, where he is supposedly investigating the Kars elections, as well as looking into the suicide epidemic amongst young girls in Kars. Later we also find out that he also hopes to find and fall in love with an old, now divorced, classmate of his, Ipek. Snow follows Ka’s arrival and subsequent adventures in Kars. Ka stumbles his way through various encounters that keep tangling him deeper into the political web of Kars.
A lot happens to Ka through the story and in many ways his character comes off as broken and depressed, clinging on to a tiny bit of hope that he will find happiness in his love for Ipek. Everything that happens to him seems to come back to this idea of finding happiness. The entire time I was reading Snow, I found myself pitying and also in a way disgusted by Ka. He came across as selfish and misguided.
Ipek seemed to play a more vital role than I think I understand. Her beauty is mentioned multiple times and almost every character of importance is in love with her or her sister Kadife. By the end of the story I began to understand that Ipek and her sister kadife were a lot smarter than they were initially portrayed but like many aspects of the story, I have yet to understand the bigger role they play.
The other aspect of the story that I found interesting was how the narrator of the story was names Orhan Pamuk. Again, I am not sure if this is just the name he chose to give his narrator or whether it is some sort of reflection of himself in the story. When this first happened it was somewhere in the middle of the story and I was extremely confused. I read and re-read those few lines again and again, flipped back through pages trying to figure out what was going on. There was no warning or indication that this would happen. While I thought it added an element of realness that I haven’t experienced in other books before, I was once again uncertain of the point and what it brings to the story.
Reading Snow was a journey full of intrigue, hope, and lots of frustration, punctuated with bouts of boredom. I don’t hate the story at all but I also don’t love it and I really wanted to love the book. Especially because I loved his writing style but my lack of knowledge hindered my ability to completely grasp the story. It also made me feel ignorant and uninformed which in turn made me feel stupid, and like most other people I detest feeling stupid. I definitely want to re-read this one day. Perhaps after I have read more about Turkish history and politics, and see if that changes my understanding of the story. I am almost certain that any doubts or confusions I have will be made clear with a little more context.
“How much can we ever know about the love and pain in another 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?”
“There’s a lot of pride involved in my refusal to believe in god.”
“Suddenly Ka realized he was in love with İpek. And realizing that this love would determine the rest of his life, he was filled with dread.”
“Most of the time it’s not the Europeans who belittle us. What happens when we look at them is that we belittle ourselves. When we undertake the pilgrimage, it’s not just to escape the tyranny at home but also to reach to the depths of our souls. The day arrives when the guilty must return to save those who could not find the courage to leave.”