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Orhan Pamuk

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Title: Snow
Original title: Kar
Author: Orhan Pamuk
Translator: Maureen Freely
Year: 2002

As the poet and journalist Ka returns to Turke, to the city of Kars in the far east, a heavy snow begins to fall. It hems in the town, isolating it from the rest of the country, making it a separate stage for its own problems. Initially, Ka’s mission is to inquire into the nature of a number of suicide committed by young women in the town, but he is soon drawn into a dangerously complex political struggle, and can barely stay afloat. Caught between the secularist army, supporters of the republic, and radical Islamists fighting for their right to practice their religion, Ka’s allegiances become entangled, threating to drown him. Also, in Kars, he meets Ipek, a woman of dazzling beauty he falls madly in love with.

Each separate theme in Orhan Pamuk’s Snow is not brilliant on its own, but considering that he manages to keep several of them prominent throughout the novel is truly brilliant. Not only does he write an interesting political thriller, but he also includes an insightful discussion about the nature of religious beliefs, as well as reflections on many problems in modern Turkey (the headscarf being a clear focus, as well a Turkey’s relationship to the West). Furthermore, Pamuk also muses on the nature of poetry and art, using himself as a narrator trying to understand his friend, Ka. These things are not enough to explain the four and a half snails I have decided to give Snow.

It is the language that turns this novel into a masterpiece. Of course, it is difficult to know how much of this should be attributed to the translator, but the English version I read contained the most amazing language. I have read novels more expertly written, but they can be counted easily. The words used to describe the characters and their thoughts, truly bring them to life; the painting of the landscape of Kars and the falling snow brings a unique atmosphere I will remember long after forgetting the actual plot of the novel. Also, the novel contains a lot of interesting techniques to present information ahead of the chronology, which highlight the main points of the story.

As I usually do for novels this good, I try to explain why they are not perfect. Snow is about a hundred pages too long (it is 436 as it stands now). I found many passages irrelevant, boring or just too wordy. Still, the language is excellent, so it is worthwhile anyway. This novel could have been one of the best I have read, but it is not. Still, Snow ranks pretty high and I recommend it to everyone interested in profound reflections and a tragic story adeptly put into words.

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