So I started reading this novel three months ago – in the last uni holidays. For me, that’s a really long time ago. The problem is, I kept picking it up and putting it down. But finally, I have finished it. That’s the greatest thing I’ve done this year, I think. And if this review smells of Stockholm Syndrome, I apologise in advance.
Ka, a Turkish poet living in Germany, returns to his home country to investigate a spate of suicides in the small town of Kars. There, he finds an interesting cast of characters, each with a unique take on what is going on in the village. Of particular interest to Ka, though, is his old flame, Ipek. But as the snow falls around the town, they are closed in, and something terrible is coming.
Ok, first things first. This book is legitimately interesting. It’s one of the few contemporary novels (The Reluctant Fundamentalist is another good one) that actually faces one of the central tenants of Western society at the moment: the problem of Islam. Because, let’s face it, we do have one. Pamuk, as an exiled Turk, has an interesting perspective on the problem, and his ability to discuss and dissect both sides of the argument make for interesting reading.
There’s quite a bit of symbolism going on in the novel, and after a while, it’s pretty clear what the symbols are. Or what I think they are. Kars is a synecdoche for Turkey, and Ka the poet is Pamuk the author. His return to his hometown (read: homeland) means people question him and what he stands for – and he gets a lot of criticism for not being religious. There is definitely an anti-atheism theme to many of the characters who populate Kars, and they constantly question Ka’s beliefs. I don’t truly believe him to be an atheist – I think he attributes the poems he writes to God, or someone higher, at least – but because he is not as sure in his beliefs as many other people in the town, he is a site for attack. Which is interesting in its own right.
What is more interesting, though, is the idea of ‘political Islam’, and the people behind the concept. These people are so determined to return Turkey from its current fate as a secular Islamic state, that they will do anything to ensure this goal. This ties into the girls committing suicide – questions of removing their hijab become vital to their suicides as the pressure from both sides becomes too much. Women committing suicide to make a political point is an old technique, but Pamuk uses it to great effect here.
Pamuk is also an excellent writer. particularly the opening chapter, which is genuinely beautiful. And the descriptions of snow throughout the book are lovely.
Ok, so here’s the caveat. Snow is perhaps one of the most boring, tedious books I’ve ever read.
Well, that’s not totally true. Here’s the problem. Pamuk clearly had a message/issue he wanted to talk about. That’s fine. What he didn’t realise (and clearly his editor didn’t either) is that you don’t need to have huge tracts of circular dialogue between characters going on and on and on for 400 odd pages. Readers are not stupid. We get it. Again and again, Ka and Blue (the leader of the political Islamists) discuss the problems facing modern Islam and Turkey. The problem is, they talk about the same issues each and every time they talk. And there’s no finality to it. Not that I’m expecting a solution to every problem – but most authors have the decency to show even their own viewpoint. But, no – that’s too good for Pamuk. He sits on the fence the entire time. So what’s the point?!
It’s not just Ka and Blue that face this problem. Each time Ka talks to someone, it’s like he’s having the same conversation again and again. And there’s a lot of reported dialogue in this novel. It’s not bad dialogue – it’s just that sometimes, I wonder if this wouldn’t work better as a play. Or a film. Or anything but the written word. Well, maybe an extended essay would be ok. Each conversation just tears at you, until you have to throw Snow at the wall in frustration, and wander off to find something else to read. Anything else.
This novel has an interesting central premise. But everything else is as boring as batshit.