Tuesday, February 11, 2014


by Orham Pamuk
translated by Maureen Freely
New York : Everyman's Library, 2011 (originally published in Turkish in 2002 and in English translation in 2004).

Ka, a Turkish poet recently returned from exile in Germany, travels to Kars to investigate the recent suicides of "head scarf girls," the young women who wear head scarves in protest of the laws that do not allow them to wear them to university. Also, not incidentally, this is where a women he knew in school, Ipek, lives after her divorce. After his arrival, Kars is cut off from the rest of the country by a snowstorm that closes the roads.

This rich tale is hard to explain. It unfolds in such a way that it is hard to describe accurately, since what seems important for the first 50 pages or so turn out not to be the main focus of this exploration of the tension between the secularists and the Islamists, politics and performance, personal happiness and duty. The narrative distances us from events and characters through its layered qualities. Though most of the story is told from Ka's perspective the actual narrator - a friend of Ka's who is unnamed for much of the story - knows the end of events before he begins, and will often speak directly to the reader about these future events. While in Kars (which means "snow"), Ka finds himself able to write poetry even while he is faced with questions about his own identity and faith, or lack of it. He becomes a (possibly?) unwilling participant in events that leave the narrator and reader intentionally fuzzy about exactly what happens. Not for the fainthearted reader, but for one willing to persevere and pick apart the novel, it's a meaty and involving read.

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