Thursday, January 20, 2011

Snow - By Orhan Pamuk


The words 'Nobel Prize in Literature' can lure any person to pick up a certain book, irrespective whether you've heard the author's name or not!! I can use the same excuse to explain why i picked up this book. as you know that curiosity always kills me and the rebellious streak overpowers each time, I bought the book in spite of knowing it's not my area of interest. In spite of seeing the words ‘politics’!! That too of turkey. (Oh lord. What the hell was I thinking) I’m still trying to figure out how our political system is intact in spite of the nonsensical antics one witness everyday. Just for the
attempt of trying to understand how Turkey politics go about,I honestly deserve a pat on my back. Nevertheless, I pulled up my socks to experience what was called as ' brilliant work of literature' and then almost fell flat on my face experiencing it.

The title of the novel interestingly has pun in it. 'Snow' is based upon a forgotten city in Turkey named Kars. ‘Kar' in Turkish means Snow. What started as a story with a simple storyline ends badly entangled that it will leave the reader scratching his head. The forgotten city has a visitor, an equally infamous poet, Kerim Alakusoglu, conveniently abbreviated as Ka by the poet himself. Ka returns to Turkey after spending a good 12 years in Germany, to perform the last rites of his beloved mother and also he was given the job, by some newspaper to cover the increasing number of suicide cases amongst the women of Kars. This was just an excuse to visit Kars. The real reason why he braved the relentless snowfall and got into the last bus to Kars in spite of the danger looming ahead was because of the burning desire to see a girl, Ipek, from his college whom he loved, with the hope that his unrequited love finally blossoms into nothing less than a blissful marriage. After he arrives in the city all the roads had to be closed because of the heavy snow and he is confined to the poverty, sadness, horror, sufferings that defines the city. Oh also can't forget the tumultuous love he shared with Ipek. And then starts the so-called exciting and eventful 3-days in Kars and our story. (Sigh)

He commences his arrival by checking in the hotel which Ipek owns. He goes on to interview the families of the 'suicide girls'. Then he goes through the horror of witnessing the assassination of the Education director, encounters a terrorist, attends a play that ends with people actually dying, gets stuck in a so-called revolutionary movement which was triggered by, a theatre artist of all the people(!!) and in the end becomes a mediator between two self-proclaimed revolutionaries/terrorists. He is surprised to learn that the suicides are being committed because the girls are being told NOT to wear the headscarf, which goes against the holy teachings of Islam. The girls, being crushed between having to choose from faith or law, found it easier to kill themselves. The way they committed suicide (another sin according to Islam but still women seemed to prefer that rather than just live without headscarf!) is very disturbing. It was always almost sudden. They would commit the heinous crime with the same ease as they did their daily chores. The Education director was assassinated for following the law, which stated that no head-scarfed girls would be admitted. Ka also meets many influential and powerful people who have a great impact on the events that took place in his 3 super interesting days. The character I found most amusing was Serdar Bey, the city newspaper editor who writes and prints all the stories 1 day prior to the actual occurrence and waits for them to come true (which surprisingly always happens). It was funny that amidst all this horror and confusion, our drought stricken poet is suddenly flooded with poems. He surprisingly finds inspiration to write poems after a 4-year hiatus when he was caught in dire circumstances. The seclusion and sadness gets onto him (and onto us as well) so much that he felt God within him and confesses that he heard poems and he was just a mediator of the higher source who was telling these poems through him. This was ironic as he is an atheist. The readers only come across the titles of all his 18 poems. Probably if some poems were present it would have been an interesting read atleast!! And another thing which baffled me was why the people of Kars detested 'Western' so much. They even disliked Ka because he stayed in Germany (read: western nation). The line "I am proud of the part of me that isn’t European, I am proud of things in that the Europeans find childish, cruel and primitive. If the Europeans are beautiful, I want to be ugly; if they are intelligent, I prefer to be stupid; if they are modern let me stay simple" clearly conveys that the Turks prefer staying as destitutes,jobless,zombies but they wouldn't entertain anything western even if they end up having a better life! And yea the people of Kars don't want the readers to feel sorry for them or sympathise or pity them. (And here Indians are aping the west like maniacs with the belief that they will live a better life. Told ya..never understood politics..) By the way that's all for the story. Don't worry I didn’t kill any surprise or mystery of the book because it doesn’t have any.

One person made his presence felt throughout the book. The narrator. The narrator, Orhan (who coincidentally is also the author :P ) claims to write this novel after he found Ka's notes in his apartment after Ka’s death. The narration gets annoying when he gives away the climax to a particular event and after revealing the end he, at a snail's pace describes minute details of the same event, from square one. That is why I said there are zilch surprises in the book. I mean why would you want to read about something whose end you already known. Eg. "His beautiful green eyes, one of which would be shattered by a bullet in 47 minutes, stared intently at Ka.” After this sentence there is a long description of how he died. Which is no fun to read as you already know he dies! The book gets painfully slow a read to even enjoy it. And then suddenly Orhan throws in a chapter, which shows a scene 4 years henceforth.(which again gives away the entire story. i thought this might be the right time to just stop reading. but I still carried on thinking things would change). The reader again gets perked up to know why and how it happened.  Once again you fall flat on the face because after reading the entire book that 'why' is not answered. Disappointment. The only part where the readers may 'kind of' enjoy is when they watch Ka falling in love with Ipek...and with her equally beautiful sister, Kadife. Orhan brought out 2 characters that were almost alike each other but also differed, like Ipek and Kadife, Necip & Fazil, Blue and Sunay. But instead of making things clearer with the inclusion of so many characters, the readers are left confused as their similarities and differences are blaringly loud but of no use. The already disappointed reader gets all the more irritated when Orhan gets distracted and starts of telling his own story instead of Ka's. This book is a good read for people who are into politics and all that drama. For people expecting a fast paced, exciting thriller it will be a disappointment. Inspite of the beautiful writing and storytelling (and being painfully slow), something is missing. Many ‘where-is-the-dictionary’ moments will also come across (here it is proved why he got Nobel Prize for Literature!!). The best part of his writing is the scene which describes how the inspiration to write poetry again struck him. If not the book, just read that paragraph. It’s beautifully written and totally worth a read (get back to me for page nos. :) )

In the end it's the story of an unimportant man, writing unimportant poems, and dying a meaningless death. I thought maybe it’ll be better if made into a movie, then the world would have to bear the turn-off for just 2 hours, or at the most 3...;-)