“One of the pleasures of writing this novel was to say to my Turkish readers and to my international audience, openly and a bit provocatively, but honestly, that what they call a terrorist is first of all a human being. Our secularists, who are always relying on the army and who are destroying Turkey’s democracy, hated this book because here you have a deliberate attempt by a person who was never religious in his life to understand why someone ends up being what we or the Western world calls an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist.”  -Orhan Pamuk  snow-1

SNOW by Orhan Pamuk captures a plethora of themes such as the never-ceasing confrontation between the Secular and Extremist Islamic universe, Atheism (…), Political Secularism, the so-believed Spiritual fragility of the Western world, staunch determination of young Muslim women to wear headscarves,  ambivalence about religion, etc.  Snow (in Turkish, “kar”) is both tender metaphor and unifying symbol. Snowfall covers everything and everyone indiscriminately, throughout the story, which is set in the city of Kars {in the north eastern part of Turkey},  the remote city on the Turkish border, the most neglected region with a glorious past  – once a haunt of the Ottomans and the Russian tsars, now forgotten, lends it a melancholic spirit– in author’s words, “Kars was an important station on the trade route to Georgia, Tabriz and the Caucasus, and being on the border between two defunct empires, the Ottoman and the Russian, the mountainous city also benefited from the protection of the standing armies each power has in turn placed here for that purpose. After endless wars, rebellions, massacres, and atrocities, the city was occupied alternately by Armenian and Russian armies, and even briefly by the British”


Ka, the protagonist of the story, a journalist and an exiled poet who lived in Hamburg, arrives in the city amidst heavy snowfall. His bourgeois Istanbul accent and his charcoal-grey coat {fascinating!} define his status as an outsider who has to be treated with certain degree of care and reverence. As he enters the city, the weather condition worsens further and the blizzard cuts of the city from the rest of the world for three days, which is events-filled a period. His claimed primary objective of reporting on an epidemic of suicides among the city’s young women, the “Headscarf girls”, who killed themselves as a reaction to a law that prohibited women from participating in public life with their heads covered, is more like a mask , concealing his individual desire of finding some kind of revival to his not-so fruitful existence as a poet {has not  written a poem in four years} and his austere lonely existence without any kind of sexual intimacy. His innate desire for making a trip to Kars is to tangibalise his growing attraction for Ipek, an acquaintance who he remembers only for her beauty {this is further accentuated by her current status of being a divorced}, with who his lonely and sad heart, eventually, desires to settle down. As he reunites with Ipek, he meets her father Turgut Bey who is an atheist and her sister Kadife, the most admired head of the headscarf girls who nurtures feelings for the mysterious Islamic militant, Blue. Ipek, though is willing, but is cautious enough not to make love when her father is under the same roof.  He wanders about the streets of Kars, searching for some kind of creative inspiration in the ceaselessly falling snow, and learning about the political rifts that are destroying the remote city’s fabric, through chance encounters. Snow is a journey, which is haunted by the discomforting religious suicides in a region that is rife with the political strife, with “happiness” being the only constantly playing concern for everyone. It materializes the state of confusion that an individual finds himself in, as he or she trudges along the path that leads to a well defined belief system, amidst varied worldly developments as triggered in by ideological pressure and cultural change.


“We are poor and insignificant. Our wretched lives have no place in history. One day all of us living here in Kars today will be dead and gone. No one will remember us;no one will care what happened to us. We will spend the rest of our days here arguing about what sort of a scarf women should wrap around their head, and no one will care in the slightest as we’re eaten up by our own petty, idiotic quarrels. When I see so many people around me leading such stupid lives and then vanishing without a trace , an anger runs through me because I know then nothing really matters in life more than love”, captures, in a true sense, the sheer helplessness and fury that’s being felt by the youth in the city….


What I truly relished about this book is the author’s exceptionally sensitive & meticulous depiction of the moment, desolation & fragile poignancy of the season & the controversial events that are deliciously served up on an exotic Turkish platter, which is hauntingly delicate and only meant to be absorbed slowly. At times, I felt as if I am staring at a painting that’s made of words…

…were the streets empty because of the snow, or were these frozen pavements always so desolate? As he walked, Ka studied the writing on the walls – the election posters, the advertisements for schools and restaurants, and new posters that the city officials hoped would end the suicide epidemic. Through the frozen windows of a half-empty tea-house, Ka saw a group of men huddled around a television. It cheered him just a little to see these old Russian stone house still standing. In his memory they had made Kars such a special place….


Does not the paragraph given below remind us of sometime when we, certainly, would have felt so, while putting in certain efforts to lend a tangible format to those pieces of conversations we journeyed through with others….


…it took some effort to maintain the conversation, but they both applied themselves to the task with admirable determination. At least they could both discuss the snow with ease. And when they exhausted this subject they moved on to the poverty of Kars. After that it was Ka’s coat. Then mutual confessions that each found the other quite unchanged, and that neither of them had been able to give up smoking. The next subject was distant friends …the discovery that both their mothers were now dead and buried in Istanbul’s Ferikoy Cemetery that induced the greater intimacy both were seeking. ..they soon turned to the pastry shop in which they were sitting…



Too much of Turkish influence is happening right now in my life. Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s climates….Faith Akin’s  head-on{German film with a Turkish Immigrant as the protagonist}