Sunday, December 28, 2014

So-called poet

Occasionally I say that a post will be short because I can't remember anything about a book listened to long ago, but it always seems that I find something to say (and say). I don't think this will be the case with Snow. My second encounter in 2014 with Orhan Pamuk. All I can say is thank goodness for John Lee; I would never have made it through this book without him. This man's writing is dense and ultimately I'm not sure what he is saying.

Unlike the previous Pamuk I listened to, Snow is fiction. Like it, it was published before Pamuk won the Nobel Prize, in 2002. It appeared in English in 2004.

A poet who goes by his initials, Ka, has returned to Turkey after 12 years in exile in Germany in order to bury his mother. He decides to stay for a while, finding work as a journalist in order to investigate a spate of suicides by young girls forced to stop wearing their head scarves in a small city in northeastern Turkey called Kars. Note that 'kar' [which f&^king Blogger keeps changing to car] is the Turkish word for snow (and was the title of the original book). Ka has an ulterior motive; to reconnect with an old lover, Ipek, living in Kars with her father and sister. He makes his way through a growing blizzard to get there. Soon after his arrival, the roads are closed and the city is isolated.

Everything is a little tense in Kars as a result of the suicides. The secular government is enforcing the law forbidding the wearing of head scarves in school but there is open protest against it. Shortly after his arrival, Ka witnesses the assassination of the school official who implemented the law. He is also immediately inspired to write a poem, "Snow," his first in a long time. Later that evening, during a live televised drama/variety show (?), the military (and the secular government) stage a coup [not clear here ... how can there be a coup if they were in charge?] shooting up the audience and arresting so-called Islamists.

The rest of this very lengthy book is lost to the sands of time. Ka is interrogated by the military police since he was seen in the company of the well-known leader of the Islamists, Blue. Ipek's sister plans a televised protest where she will remove her headscarf (in some unclear-to-me political gesture) as part of a performance. Ipek agrees to marry Ka and move with him back to Germany.

At some point, the omniscient third person narrator fast forwards a few years to the murder of Ka on the streets of Frankfurt. His name is Orhan and he's a novelist and Ka was his friend and he's telling us the story of Kars using Ka's journals. How very meta.

I find I have absolutely no notes on the narration, so go back to the earlier Pamuk/Lee collaboration to find out how great a reader of this dense prose John Lee is. His is a lovely reading voice so that part wasn't painful, and he reads Pamuk's descriptive sections as if they were poetry.

Snow was the second to last of the nine Muslim Journeys books that I read with my library discussion group. (Not many of us liked it.) There were three really memorable books on this list for me: In the Country of Men, Dreams of Trespass, and Minaret. But what was more memorable was this group of readers: Enthusiastic, thoughtful, receptive, and very bonded. I hope we can figure out some way to continuing reading together.

[There is an actual Kars, and this is a panoramic photograph of it. It was taken by Bjorn Christian Torrissen (apologies for leaving out the "slashed o's" as they screwed up my formatting) and was retrieved from Wikimedia Commons (click on that link for a bigger picture and its detailed caption).]

Snow by Orhan Pamuk, translated by Maureen Freely
Narrated by John Lee
Random House Audio, 2007. 18:32

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