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105 of 105 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Here is an explanation of some cultural references that might help with your appreciation of this book
I am of Turkish origin and have read "Snow" in its original Turkish print. I feel that the reason why there are so many lukewarm reviews for this book is that the themes & references might not be so accessible to readers who are not quite familiar with the culture and recent history of Turkey.

One underlying theme of the book was that the protagonist Ka is...
Published on 21 April 2010 by Z de MC

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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Snow
Orhan Pamuk's 'Snow' is an ambitious (if not over-ambitious) attempt to somehow grasp the complex struggle between fundamentalism and nationalism - and those caught in between - in his native Turkey. The rather unlikely hero Ka, a poet and exile, is drawn unwillingly into this conflict after witnessing a local official murdered by an extremist. Ka...
Published on 8 Feb 2006 by Demob Happy


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105 of 105 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Here is an explanation of some cultural references that might help with your appreciation of this book, 21 April 2010
This review is from: Snow (Paperback)
I am of Turkish origin and have read "Snow" in its original Turkish print. I feel that the reason why there are so many lukewarm reviews for this book is that the themes & references might not be so accessible to readers who are not quite familiar with the culture and recent history of Turkey.

One underlying theme of the book was that the protagonist Ka is living in exile in Germany (a situation many Turkish intellectuals & political activists found themselves in, following the 1980 coup d'etat in Turkey) in a small state-subsidied apartment, a lonely outsider in a foreign culture. All this alienation and need to belong are, I feel, behind his thought that it would be a good idea to marry a girl he has fancied back when they were both little, and even his rapproachment with the religious groups.

The whole thing is a nod to feelings of isolation reported by the poor, uneducated, "rural" Turks who went as factory workers to Europe decades ago, and whose descendants still import brides from Turkey. The book seems to be saying that those of us who are better educated, who consider ourselves above our "rural" countrymen, are still the same down inside, with the same cultural longings.

Another theme is the play on names. All Turkish names and surnames mean something, and most are words that are still commonly used in everyday language - Rock, Fire, War, Peace, Rain, Water, etc are all given names in Turkey. The two female characters in the book are Ipek ("Silk") and Kadife ("Velvet"), for example.

Going back to the play on words - KARS is the name of the city, 'Snow' is 'KAR' in Turkish, and KA is the name of the main character. What might not be so obvious to the foreign reader is that no Turk would be called "Ka" - it is too short, and above all, it does not mean anything. Author could be trying to show that the protagonist has lost all meaning, cultural relevance as well as the "meaning" of every Turk's name. He is set apart from the culture he longs for, even in his name. The whole wordplay of "Kars > Kar > Ka" not only links the place, the blanket of snow that isolates the city from the world, and the protagonist, but also seems to be pointing towards a diminishing effect, a reduction to absurdity.

One last thing I would like to mention: "Mavi" ("Blue") is not a name in Turkish. It is a code name, with heavy reference to "Yesil" ("Green") - the code name used by a Turkish ex-cop, ex-MIT (Turkish CIA) assassin used by the state in 1990s for illegal executions.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best living novelists, 8 Jun 2007
By 
Jonathan Birch (Cambridge) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Snow (Paperback)
Snow, the story of Ka, a poet who visits the troubled city of Kars, is narrated from a viewpoint four years after the events. The narration is (intentionally) cold, hazy and distant, as our narrator tries to piece together the events that have befallen poor Ka. The plot is brutal and tragic, centred on death and failing relationships. This isn't an easy read. If you want an uplifting novel, Pamuk isn't your man. But there is a lot to be admired in the way the sense of pathos and loss builds up to a beautiful crescendo.

In places the prose is brilliantly inventive. There is a whole chapter comprising a taped final conversation between a murderer and his victim (it's chilling, because you know how it will end). The alternations between the present day and four years previously work very well. A powerful subplot revolving around a book of lost poetry reflects the mood of the whole novel wonderfully. The reviewer who describes this as "Dostoevsky without a plot" is not so far off the mark, but Pamuk doesn't aim for the richness of characterisation Dostoevsky specialised in. He's more in the business of evocative, symbolic description. His settings are as alive as his characters, if not more so.

Pamuk's cities are achingly beautiful, but they're also creepy, claustrophobic and waiting to knife you in the back. Stepping into a Pamuk novel is at the same time like looking over a glorious panorama and like looking under your bed. In Snow, Kars is brought to life with the skill a Pamuk fan would expect. My only caveat is that it's not as compelling as The Black Book, a stunning evocation of 1980s Istanbul. If you want a full idea of what this sensational novelist is capable of, try The Black Book.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A novel about the critical dilemmas of modern Turkey, 25 Nov 2007
By 
HORAK (Zug, Switzerland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Snow (Paperback)
In "Snow" the poet Ka returns to Turkey after more than a decade in Frankfurt, and journeys to Kars, far in the east. Among the things he hopes to find there is an old classmate and love, Ipek, now separated from her husband. He also plans to explore and report on a wave of suicides by girls there. It is snowing when Ka arrives, and the snow continues to fall, cutting off the town from the rest of the world. There is tension there: an upcoming mayoral election, the struggle between religion and secularism, a heavy-handed police presence. The conflict between Islam - and, for example, the right of girls to go to school wearing head-scarves - and the secular society the government has imposed causes the most problems.
Ka is an outsider. He begins as a dutiful journalist, talking to a variety of town figures, trying to learn more about the suicides, but finds himself drawn into this larger conflict. Throughout the country, and especially in this region, it is no longer the Kurds that are perceived by the authorities as being the greatest threat, but the increasingly influential Islamists. Ka, respected as a poet but tainted as one who has presumably been polluted by Western thought and ways, is viewed with both suspicion and interest by both sides. The police are reluctant to rough him up - as they do the locals - because of his Istanbul and German connexions, while the Islamists see him as the enemy but warily accept that he might be able to help convey their message. Eventually, he is also used as a go-between by both sides.
It is the desire to write a book about the poems written by Ka that leads the narrator - an alter-ego Orhan Pamuk, and long-time friend of Ka's - to tell this story.
Snow is a book about the difficulties faced by a nation torn between tradition, religion, and modernization. Set in the farthest east of Turkey, the locals are certain that in Western eyes they're all considered as ignoramuses. Pamuk effectively portrays these difficulties, and the many ambiguities in contemporary Turkish life.
The novel is expertly read by John Lee for Random House Audio.
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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dense, intense, a mountain of a book., 26 Sep 2006
By 
Green Pixie (Leeds, West Yorkshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Snow (Paperback)
Describing 3 snowbound days in a remote Turkish town, this novel examines politics and religion in modern Turkey. Pamuk examines the uneasy relationship that exists between nationalism and Islam, and the conflict between a desire for prosperity & progress and the fear of a creeping Westernisation that threatens to undermine Islam and republicanism. Alongside this Pamuk sets Kurdish nationalism, and never lets the reader forget the legacies of Armenia, and Russian colonialism.

The novel is fascinating in its analysis of Islamic extremism, particularly the examination of women's place in Islam and in Turkish society. Pamuk doesn't flinch from allowing his characters, on all sides of the arguments, to express their opinions and their doubts. In the environment of restricted free speech that exists in Turkey, you can but admire his bravery.

I have to admit that reading this book was hard work, partly because the subject matter is so foreign to my liberal Western background, but also due to the intense prose style. But it is a book that merits close attention and is worth persevering with - you really need to read the whole thing to fully appreciate it.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Snow, 8 Feb 2006
This review is from: Snow (Paperback)
Orhan Pamuk's 'Snow' is an ambitious (if not over-ambitious) attempt to somehow grasp the complex struggle between fundamentalism and nationalism - and those caught in between - in his native Turkey. The rather unlikely hero Ka, a poet and exile, is drawn unwillingly into this conflict after witnessing a local official murdered by an extremist. Ka encounters a complex cast of characters in the manner of a Le Carré espionage thriller, being manipulated as a pawn in several (sometimes unlikely sounding) revolutionary plots. The effectiveness of this novel rests on whether you subscribe to the author's attempt to map complex issues of Turkish national and religious identity onto a slightly clumsy formular of intrigue and espionage. There are perhaps too many characters, and not all of them engage - not least the rather slight protagonist who is constantly inspired to write poems that the reader does not get the privilege to see. Meanwhile, the backdrop of endless snowfall, and its metaphorical connotations, is force-fed on the reader with repetitious descriptive passages. It may be that something is lost in the translation, but the rather cyclical nature of the narrative, and the imagery, is more exhausting than engaging. Or perhaps that is what was intended?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A dense, utterly humane, and profound reflection on the tensions at the heart of modern Turkey, 19 Jan 2010
By 
Mark Meynell "quaesitor" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Snow (Paperback)
There is a play on words that gets lost in translation from Turkish into English. I am by no means a Turkish speaker, and I only discovered it when looking up information about the town in which Orhan Pamuk's celebrated 2002 book is set. Pamuk won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006 and the citation said that he: "in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures."
Well, that is certainly true of Snow.

- KARS is a remote frontier town, on the far east border of Turkey with Armenia - it's troubled history has seen it obviously under Ottoman rule, but also occupied for a few decades by Imperial Russia and even the British.
- The Turkish word for 'snow' is 'KAR' - so the published Turkish title was just that. The majority of the events described take place in Kars in the depths of winter when the city is entirely cut off from the outside world by snow drifts - roads are impassible and the trains unable to run.
- The protagonist of the book is a poet called 'Ka' - that's not a common Turkish name but is formed from his initials: Kerim Alako'o'lu.

Ka has lived in political exile in Germany for years - but has returned to Turkey for a family funeral, and a journalist friend in Istanbul offers him a short assignment investigating a recent spate of young girls committing suicide in far-off Kars. He spent some of his childhood there and so seizes the chance for a nostalgia trip - a trip that will change his life. The city is in turmoil - and while most of Turkey ignores Kars most of the time, it is the focus of attention because local elections are imminent and the front runner for mayor is an Islamist radical.

The novel is narrated by an old friend who's spent time following in his footsteps and trying to piece together what happened there and in the 4 subsequent years back in Germany. By the end of the book it is clear that the narrator is none other than Pamuk himself.

This is a dense book - and yet richly rewarding. It encompasses so much - too much to grasp in a few paragraphs.
- It is a searing analysis of the tensions inherent in modern Turkey. It's set in the 90s - i.e. before 9/11 and the true nature of Islamic terrorism had gained widespread public consciousness in the west. The Europeanisers who follow in the footsteps of Ataturk. As the New Statesman reviewer said, the book 'illuminates the confrontation between secular and extremist Islamic worlds better than any work of non-fiction I can think of.' Well, I've not read many non-fiction analyses - but I have to say that this certainly rang chords. That's one of the great gifts of fiction - one gets inside the mind of people with profoundly different outlooks. And as today in the west, battleground is the issue of women wearing headscarves. Even over the short time I've been going to Turkey, I've noticed the huge increase in Istanbul of women covering their heads.
- The girl's suicides have horrified people of both sides: for the secularists, it is the grim outworking of Islamic oppression of women; for Islamists, it seems the inevitable consequence of atheism. Ka is basically atheist, but finds himself slightly swayed by prevailing winds - so some Islamist students he gets to know and highly respect, assume he must therefore want to take his own life.
- It is a story about love and happiness - can you be happy in love - or, as with Ka, is happiness always spoiled by the dread of its loss? Pamuk constantly drops in hints of what is to come as he narrates Ka's tale - and yet it is precisely his narrator's art which makes you long for it to be otherwise as he spends time with the captivating and secular I'pek.
- It is a story about family loyalties - as Ka spends time with I'pek, her more radicalised and headscarf-wearing sister Kadife, and their father, the former communist Turgut Bey.
- It's a story about literature and poetry - Ka has suffered years of writer's block - but his short time in Kars has impelled him to write - he is regularly interrupted by the impulse to write - and so has to carry his notebook to the poems wherever he goes. It is about the power of art to change things - one or two characters have spent lifetimes translating european poetry into Turkish in the hope of its power rubbing off on their culture; and some of the key events take place on the stage of the town's National Theatre. A band of secularist ham actors have arrived with hopes of changing and exposing culture in a way similar to Hamlet's play within a play.
- It is a book about the individuality of individual lives - which is where the snow comes in. Snow was not just a device to cut Kars off from the outside world, and thereby turn it into a microcosm of Turkey. As Ka discovers in research back in Germany:

"the form of each snowflake is determined also by the temerpature, the direction and strength of the wind, the altitude of the cloud, and any number of other mysterious forces, Ka decided that snowflakes have much in common with people...
...Lurking throughout these commentaries was the belief that his poetry was shaped by mysterious external forces. And by the time he was recording these thoughts in his notebooks, Ka was convinced that every life is like a snowflake: individual existences might look identical from afar, but to understand one's own externally mysterious uniqueness one had only to plot the mysteries of one's own snowflake. (p383)"

Pamuk's middle name could practically be 'melancholy' - every book I've read of his is permeated by it, rather as Istanbul occasionally gets swathed in fog sweeping off the Bosphorus. But his writing is very affecting. And anyone who wants to understand modern Turkey, and indeed the culture clash between Islam and the post-Enlightenment West, could do far worse than spending time with this sensitive and humane writer.

Snow has been described as a 'courageous' book - and in the light of the dark forces of Islamic fundamentalism (especially post-Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses), it's not hard to see why. Although as far as my outsider's view can tell, he's not blasphemous - he merely exposes the perversities and absurdities of that world. Which is not to say that he is starry-eyed about the west or secularists. Far from it - which is perhaps the clue to his melancholy. He doesn't quite fit with either. And that perhaps is contemporary Istanbul's, and indeed Turkey's, agony.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth the Effort, 14 May 2004
This review is from: Snow (Paperback)
Orhan Pamuk is not an easy or superficially gripping author, but his sad, wry stories gradually build momentum and draw the reader into their world. There is something of the German existentialist in them, like a modern Heinrich Boll or Gunther Grass with a bleak view on hope and happiness. There is also something very 'other' about the Turkish culture he portrays - insecure, questing, nervy and nationalistic in even parts. Snow is set in a cut off town on the far edges of that massive country, straddling a disjointed history torn apart by old conflicts and now stuck in an uneasy stasis. Pamuk tackles contemporary issues of secularism and fundamentalism deftly and disturbingly. As with all his novels Snow is a story of many layers: a semi-requited love story; a gripping political thriller; a nostaligic evocation of memory and loss; a story of a family under peculiar stress; a broad cultural allegory. And extraordinarily he pulls the book of on each of these. It is never easy going, but Snow is quietly seductive and richly rewards persistance.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Behind the scenes of Kars, 22 Aug 2010
This review is from: Snow (Paperback)
Ka, a journalist visits his native town of Kars. Kars, has changed , its troubled and there is an epidemic of head-scarf girl suicides, mixed with political tension. The city is divided between factions, including religious fanatics, and belief and hatred towards the godless western societies is prevalent.
When the snow covers the city, all links with the external world are cut-off, but the lights within the city illuminate a stage, a dangerous and deathly stage where the story will develop and end with a turmoil.
The city is beautifully and poetically described, as is the subplot, involving Ka's love for the woman of his dreams. However, the subplot is continuously interrupted by the background noise of the city, which keeps pounding incessantly.
I could not go to bed without reading at least a few chapters of the book. Through the novel, I met knew people and a society that is hidden from the western media,I found that the accounts in the book are very informative and provide the means to learn and appreciate, how beliefs and prejudice is instilled in the various societies.
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars IMPORTANT AS WELL AS WORTHWHILE READ, 30 Mar 2006
By 
Klingsor Tristan (Suffolk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Snow (Paperback)
In the light of Turkey's (and Britain's) desire that it should join the European Union and play a larger role in European affairs and in the light of the Turkish judiciary's recent attempts to prosecute the author for speaking out about some of the dodgier parts of its past, this book should really be required reading for all. It gives a vivid picture of the conflicting factions at play in the political game there from the secular Attaturkists to the fundamentalist Islamists, from conservatives to revolutionaries, from the devoutly religious to the devoutly atheist. And most shades in between.
But this is a novel, not a political tract and Pamuk also manages to invest his vast array of characters and opinions with faces and feelings. They are by turns fleshly, lustful, attractive, impetuous, wise, irrational, outrageous, subversive, camp, theatrical, etc. The whole piece is enclosed by the snow of the title which envelops and isolates this colourful gallery of (largely) misfits and the remote town in which the events recounted take place. This piece of symbolism certainly gives the book its distinctive colouring.
It is perhaps post-modern in an unnecessarily convoluted way. The book is about the poet, Ka, and is largely seen from his point of view. But it purports to be written by Orhan, a close friend of Ka, who may or may not be the same Orhan who actually wrote the book. Confusing or what? Helpful to understanding it all? Not particularly.
The other major cop-out is the failure (plotted into the story, it's true) to reproduce any of Ka's poems, a major clearing of writers' block which is supposedly sparked by his visit to the town.
Having aired those gripes, I would still maintain that this is a good read as well as being a salutary one. The characters are rich and varied, the plotting is involving, the political and religious dilemmas and dichotomies it presents are fascinating and important. Turkey sits, as it has through history, at the meeting-point of Europe and Asia. This novel gives a strongly limned portrait of this Janus nation as well as a fine picture of its characters as more universal human beings.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars snow, 22 Oct 2007
This review is from: Snow (Paperback)
Winner of the Nobel prize for literature 2006...
This is the first and only book that I have read of Orhan Pamuk and I suspect it was not the best place to start. The book is in general slow, it has some parts in which it picks up but slows down again. Ka may have only been at Kars for three days but it seemed like weeks.
Not the "gripping political thriller" that I expected.
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Snow by Orhan Pamuk (Paperback - 7 April 2005)
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