Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet
(an occasional outburst)

© 2005 Tom Berger

 

An addendum to LCRW no. 16

Berger on Books

Orhan Pamuk, Snow (translated by Maureen Freely)
Reviewed by Tom Berger

SnowOn the final page of Orhan Pamuk's Snow, a character tells the narrator, a novelist named Orhan, "I'd like to tell your readers not to believe anything you say about me, anything you say about any of us." These touches, the apparent lack of distinction between novelist and narrator and the calling of attention to the novel as a story not to be believed, will not seem remarkable to readers of Pamuk's novels, which include elements of postmodernism and magic realism. The title of his previous novel, My Name Is Red, comes from a chapter narrated by that color as used in manuscript illuminations, and the book also includes chapters narrated by a corpse and a dog. Pamuk questions the nature of the novel and storytelling throughout his novels; another central preoccupation is the nature of identity, and he is fond of doubled characters whose identities are so intertwined as to seem uncertain, like the Italian slave and his Muslim master in The White Castle or the journalist uncle and nephew in The Black Book.

But the new novel, unlike Pamuk's previous works, deals directly with current events in Turkey, and part of the interest for the Western reader is the insight into the conflict between the West and fundamentalist Islam that is one of the primary themes. Snow is the story of Orhan's attempt to understand the fate of his friend, the poet Ka, an atheist political exile from Istanbul who has been living for years in Frankfurt. In Kars, a town in northeastern Turkey, Ka attempts to understand what has driven several devout young Muslim women to suicide and what drives a former friend from Istanbul and young students he has just met to a fundamentalist Islam that he finds baffling. One possible answer is shouted by a young Kurd, "We're not stupid, we're just poor!" Echoing this idea, Pamuk himself noted, in an interview in The Guardian (9/29/2001), that what drives many to support the Taliban or to condone the attacks on America is not Islam, but a clear sense of the difference in living standards between western Europe/America and the rest of the world and "the feeling of impotence deriving from degradation and the failure to be heard and understood."

Snow should be read both for its political content and for Pamuk's masterful storytelling.

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Tom Berger shines the light of literature on college students in Washington, DC.