by Orhan Pamuk
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From the book
The silence of snow, thought the man sitting just behind the bus driver. If this were the beginning of a poem, he would have called the thing he felt inside him the silence of snow.
He’d boarded the bus from Erzurum to Kars with only seconds to spare. He’d just come into the station on a bus from Istanbul—a snowy, stormy, two-day journey—and was rushing up and down the dirty wet corridors with his bag in tow, looking for his connection, when someone told him the bus for Kars was leaving immediately.
He’d managed to find it, an ancient Magirus, but the conductor had just shut the luggage compartment and, being “in a hurry,” refused to open it again. That’s why our traveler had taken his bag on board with him; the big dark-red Bally valise was now wedged between his legs. He was sitting next to the window and wearing a thick charcoal coat he’d bought at a Frankfurt Kaufhof five years earlier. We should note straightaway that this soft, downy beauty of a coat would cause him shame and disquiet during the days he was to spend in Kars, while also furnishing a sense of security.
As soon as the bus set off, our traveler glued his eyes to the window next to him; perhaps hoping to see something new, he peered into the wretched little shops and bakeries and broken-down coffeehouses that lined the streets of Erzurum’s outlying suburbs, and as he did it began to snow. It was heavier and thicker than the snow he’d seen between Istanbul and Erzurum. If he hadn’t been so tired, if he’d paid a bit more attention to the snowflakes swirling out of the sky like feathers, he might have realized that he was traveling straight into a blizzard; he might have seen at the start that he was setting out on a journey that would change his life forever and chosen to turn back.
But the thought didn’t even cross his mind. As evening fell, he lost himself in the light still lingering in the sky above; in the snowflakes whirling ever more wildly in the wind he saw nothing of the impending blizzard but rather a promise, a sign pointing the way back to the happiness and purity he had known, once, as a child. Our traveler had spent his years of happiness and childhood in Istanbul; he’d returned a week ago, for the first time in twelve years, to attend his mother’s funeral, and having stayed there four days he decided to take this trip to Kars. Years later, he would still recall the extraordinary beauty of the snow that night; the happiness it brought him was far greater than any he’d known in Istanbul. He was a poet and, as he himself had written—in an early poem still largely unknown to Turkish readers—it snows only once in our dreams.
As he watched the snow fall outside his window, as slowly and silently as the snow in a dream, the traveler fell into a long-desired, long-awaited reverie; cleansed by memories of innocence and childhood, he succumbed to optimism and dared to believe himself at home in this world. Soon afterward, he felt something else that he had not known for quite a long time and fell asleep in his seat.
Let us take advantage of this lull to whisper a few biographical details. Although he had spent the last twelve years in political exile in Germany, our traveler had never been very much involved in politics. His real passion, his only thought, was for poetry. He was forty-two years old and single, never married. Although it might be hard to tell as he curled up in his seat, he was tall for a Turk, with brown hair and a pale complexion that had become even paler during this journey. He was shy and enjoyed being alone. Had he known what...
About the Author-
Orhan Pamuk's novel My Name Is Red won the 2003 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. His work has been translated into more than twenty languages. He lives in Istanbul.
Orhan Pamuk's My Name Is Red, The New Life, and The White Castle are available in Vintage paperback.
Starred review from July 19, 2004
A Turkish poet who spent 12 years as a political exile in Germany witnesses firsthand the clash between radical Islam and Western ideals in this enigmatically beautiful novel. Ka's reasons for visiting the small Turkish town of Kars are twofold: curiosity about the rash of suicides by young girls in the town and a hope to reconnect with "the beautiful Ipek," whom he knew as a youth. But Kars is a tangle of poverty-stricken families, Kurdish separatists, political Islamists (including Ipek's spirited sister Kadife) and Ka finds himself making compromises with all in a desperate play for his own happiness. Ka encounters government officials, idealistic students, leftist theater groups and the charismatic and perhaps terroristic Blue while trying to convince Ipek to return to Germany with him; each conversation pits warring ideologies against each other and against Ka's own weary melancholy. Pamuk himself becomes an important character, as he describes his attempts to piece together "what really happened" in the few days his friend Ka spent in Kars, during which snow cuts off the town from the rest of the world and a bloody coup from an unexpected source hurtles toward a startling climax. Pamuk's sometimes exhaustive conversations and descriptions create a stark picture of a too-little-known part of the world, where politics, religion and even happiness can seem alternately all-consuming and irrelevant. A detached tone and some dogmatic abstractions make for tough reading, but Ka's rediscovery of God and poetry in a desolate place makes the novel's sadness profound and moving. Agent, Andrew Wylie.
: Pamuk's reputation—bigger outside the U.S. than in—enjoyed a boost with 2001's
My Name Is Red. This timely, thoughtful and demanding book may see it grow further
"Not only an engrossing feat of tale-spinning, but essential reading for our times. [Pamuk is] narrating his country into being." -- Margaret Atwood, The New York Times Book Review "A great and almost irresistibly beguiling . . . novelist. . . . [Snow is] enriched by . . . mesmerizing mixes: cruelty and farce, poetry and violence, and a voice whose timbres range from a storyteller's playfulness to the dark torment of an explorer, lost." -- The New York Times "A major work . . . conscience-ridden and carefully wrought, tonic in its scope, candor, and humor . . . . with suspense at every dimpled vortex . . . . Pamuk [is Turkey's] most likely candidate for the Nobel Prize." --John Updike, The New Yorker "From the Golden Horn, with a wicked grin, the political novel makes a triumphant return." -- Harper's "Powerful . . . Astonishingly timely . . . A deft melding of political intrigue and philosophy, romance and noir . . . [Snow] is forever confounding our expectations."--Vogue"A novel of profound relevance to the present moment. [The] debate between the forces of secularism and those of religious fanaticism . . . is conducted with subtle, painful insight into the human weakness that can underlie both impulses." --The Times (London)"A work of artÉ Alternating between the snowstorm's hush and philosophical conversations reminiscent of Dostoyevsky's great novels, Snow proves a Étimely and gripping read."--Minneapolis Star-Tribune"MarvelousÉ as quiet and transformative as a blizzard and as coldly beautiful."--St. Petersburg Times"In Snow, Pamuk uses his powers to show us the critical dilemmas of modern Turkey. How European a country is it? How can it respond to fundamentalist Islam? And how can an artist deal with these issues? ... The author's high artistry and fierce politics take our minds further into the age's crisis than any commentator could. Orhan Pamuk is the sort of writer for whom the Nobel Prize was invented." --Daily Telegraph"Part political thriller, part farce, Snow is [Pamuk's] most dazzling fiction yet. One of the top books of the year."--Village Voice"It comes as no surprise that political prescience should be yet another of the many gifts of Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk. With Snow, Pamuk gives convincing proof that the solitary artist is a better bellwether than any televised think-tanker ... The work is a melancholy farce full of rabbit-out-of-a-hat plot twists that, despite the locale, looks uncannily like the magic lantern show of misfire, denial and pratfall that appears daily in our newspapers." --Independent on Sunday"Pure magicÉ Snow is excellent."--San Francisco Chronicle"'How much can we ever know about love and pain in another's heart? How much can we hope to understand those who have suffered deeper anguish, greater deprivation and more crushing disappointments than we ourselves have known?' Such questions haunt the poet Ka . . . [in] this novel, as much about love as it is about politics."--The Observer"Richly detailed . . . A thrilling plot ingeniously shaped . . . Vividly embodies and painstakingly explores the collision of Western values with Islamic fundamentalism . . . An astonishingly complex, disturbing view of a world we owe it to ourselves to better understand."--Kirkus Reviews "Snow has already been a bestseller in Turkey--given Pamuk's stature as a novelist and the novel's content it could hardly fail to be. But what makes it a brilliant novel is its artistry. Pamuk keeps so many balls in the air that you cannot separate the inquiry into the nature of religious belief...
PublisherKnopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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