Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Orhan Pamuk, Snow, 2004

The story takes place in Kars, a small city in the Eastern Anatolia, Turkey, close to the borders of Georgia and Armenia.  The city is inhabited by Turks, Kurds and Azeris, hounded by the memories of its Armenian uprooted past.  The story is not about ethnic based differences though. It is about cultural differences: The theocratic islamists against the army-backed secular Kemalists, the Koran against the infidels and their “western atheism”, the violent islamists against the peaceful ones, the poor and wretched that are miserable and unhappy against those that find happiness in the presence of God, the tormented former communists against everybody else, the bourgeoisie with friends in high places against the locals with no connections, the informers of Turkish MIT or Islamic networks against those that speak their mind freely, the poor jobless and hopeless sitting day after day in tea-houses with nothing to do, the envied Turkish emigrants in Germany that realize that they cannot find happiness doing lowly jobs or receiving their political exile allowances. The story is epitomized in a theatrical play that takes place in Kars entitled My Headscarf or My Fatherland. All these in the midst of a local coup organised by the local army garrison in order prevent the islamists to win the local elections, while the well connected Turkish MIT keeps a watchful eye.  

The novel is often rather slow and this will occasionally make you read it line by line or even page by page. But Nobel Laureate Pamuk will make you better understand Turkey’s past and current dilemmas: “If God does not exist, then that means that Heaven does not exist either. And that means that the world’s poor, those millions who live in poverty and oppression, will never go to Heaven. And if that is so, then how do you explain all the suffering the poor have to endure? What are we here for, and why do we put up with so much suffering, if it’s all for nothing?” 

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