three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
13-Nov-Dec-2004
By: 
Orhan Pamuk
user_rating: 
0

A-SnowKa is a blocked Turkish poet, summoned back home in the 1990s after a long exile in Germany to cover a political crisis: the suicides of young girls in the remote city of Kars. These suicides seem to result from a Turkish ban on headscarves, a prohibition that brings to the fore the conflict between Islam and Westernization that grips modern Turkey. This discord runs throughout Snow, Pamuk’s seventh novel, but is by no means the work’s only thread. Ka’s return also brings a reunion with the beautiful Ipek, and his growing feelings for her create a turmoil within Ka just as complex as the political strife without.
Knopf. 426 pages. $26. ISBN: 0375406972

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"[Snow] is not only an engrossing feat of tale-spinning, but essential reading for our times. … Like Pamuk’s other novels, Snow is an in-depth tour of the divided, hopeful, desolate, mystifying Turkish soul." Margaret Atwood

San Jose Mercury News 4 of 5 Stars
"[Snow is] a book with action and intrigue, witty insights and lively characters, but it’s also a work with a moral and symbolic complexity that makes most contemporary fiction look thin and inconsequential. … This is serious fiction for serious readers." Charles Matthews

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"If you want a story that plays your heartstrings like a lute, read up to page 120, then give the book to someone who deserves some serious bedevilment. … Pamuk has written a book to make readers uncomfortable on both sides of the Bosphorus. Snow, despite its flaws, is an excellent work." Laurel Maury

Miami Herald 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Orhan Pamuk succeeds admirably in engaging with political ideas and currents while simultaneously attending to the generic demands of the novel. … And Pamuk trenchantly evokes the moral ambiguity of the timely scenario he constructs–the head-scarf controversy currently rages in France–rather than seeking to advance any illusory moral platitude." Andrew Furman

Baltimore Sun 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[As] a kind of postmodern journalism of modern Turkey—a pained report from the psychological border between East and West—[Snow] is highly worthwhile." Alane Salierno Mason

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"Clarity is not enhanced by a tone that at times jerks wildly from knowing sophistication to faux naiveté. … Nevertheless, Pamuk’s gift for the evocative image remains one of this novel’s great pleasures." Ruth Franklin

Critical Summary

In an epigraph to Snow, Pamuk quotes the French novelist Stendhal: "Politics in a literary work are a pistol-shot in the middle of a concert." With Snow, Pamuk aims to deliver this pistol-shot—and then go on performing. A couple of critics pronounce the experiment a failure; in his attempt to replicate the confusion of life in modern Turkey, Pamuk leaves some readers bewildered. However, most applaud Snow as a very rare performance indeed: a political novel that presents a nation and its people in all their maddening complexity. Margaret Atwood in The Times credits Pamuk with "narrating his country into being." In a time when real pistol-shots in concerts are increasingly likely, such narrators may prove indispensable.

Also by the Author

My Name Is Red | Orhan Pamuk (2001): "[a] rich and essential book …. To read Pamuk is to be steeped in a paradox that precedes our modern-day feuds between secularism and fundamentalism." Jonathan Levi, Los Angeles Times Book Review