Wednesday, 21 August 2013


Orhan Pamuk
Penguinuk (2005)
Rs. 256

Much like Bertolt Brecht’s concept of ‘metafiction’, Snow begins with the narrator addressing the readers directly thereby establishing the fact that there will always be an unbridgeable reader-writer-protagonist gap throughout the length of this book. The reader after being thus cautioned by the narrator is then gradually encouraged to identify himself with the poet protagonist Ka and similarly the narrator, who we later come to know is the author Orhan Pamuk himself, sets an example for the readers by irretrievably merging his own identity with the protagonist to the extent of drinking what Ka drank, sniffing the coat and bed sheets Ka came in contact with, reading his personal diary, visiting the places Ka visited (as if metaphorically following his footsteps), watching the porn he watched, sleeping in the bed he slept and falling in love with the woman Ka loved.
The readers towards the middle of the book discover that the first person narrator is none other than Pamuk and this revelation lends a mock autobiographical element to his tale and this authorial sanctioning makes the tale appear even more credible than it perhaps actually is.

Snow cannot be separated from its political agenda and this raised a question in my mind…is having a strict and well defined political stand point (apart from dillydallying with postmodernist tendencies) cursory for winning a Nobel Prize?

From what I could gather, given my limited knowledge about Turkey, is the book demonstrates how an inconspicuous city/town called Kars battles for its identity beyond the limitations of rigid Islamists, beyond the dictations of power thirsty fascists and beyond the monotonous “stereotypization” of Europhiles.

The town Kars and the poet Ka have a common thread which binds them together: just like Kars is frozen into stagnation because of steady snowfall,l Ka, who has stepped into Kars for poetic inspiration, is undergoing writer’s block – or his own mental stagnation. Just as Ka’s presence makes the snow thaw right from the third day of his visit, Kars’s influence clears his mind and allows him to note down nineteen beautiful poems thereby curing his writer’s block. The relationship between the artist and nature therefore is very symbiotically symmetrical.

Kars means snow in Turkish and snow as a motif has various purposes to fulfill. For Ka, each axis of the hexagonal snowflake symbolized an inspiration that resonated into poetry and luckily for him Kars was blanketed with such inspirational snowflakes that constantly fell from the heavens, like cheerless confetti, as human drama unfolded on earth below. Snowflakes stood for different sentiment and metaphors throughout the book and the author must have mentioned its presence in every page.

Coming to the structure of this novel, Pamuk seems to have used various Post Modernist literary techniques such as the Roman a clef, ‘play within a play’, ‘book within a book’ and stretched it even to a point where it appears to be a book about how to write a book or more precisely a book about how a book is written….there is a difference and the difference lies in activeness and passiveness grammatically speaking since Ka repeatedly mentions that he did not write poems, rather poems, ‘came’ to him.

Snow is the name of the collection of poems which ‘came’ to Ka while his stay in Kars and which he subsequently lost; and Snow is the name of the novel which Pamuk writes where he records how these poems came and went away from Ka. So it is a book about a book.

The boundary between real life and theatre is lifted during the enactment of the State sanctioned play where the actors open fire at the audience and Kadife, the leader of the ‘head scarf girls’ unknowingly shoots Sunay her co-actor and the future autocrat of Kars. The bullets used in both the incidents were real. The play spills into real life and all the world indeed becomes their stage. The fictitious audience in the novel unknowingly becomes a part of a drama they had not agreed to be a part of, so fiction further enters fiction.

The next boundary to be dissolved is between the author and his creation. Pamuk enters his story in person and steps into the shoes of his protagonist Ka and willfully unites himself with Ka’s persona. Therefore author enters fiction and blurs the reader’s concepts of real and unreal. Flashback and flashforward though present are sparingly used, and the deliberate parallels drawn between Ka and Pamuk, are made obvious right towards the end of the novel.

Pamuk discusses sensitive issues related to the political upheavals in Turkey and the sudden outbreak of suicide among Muslim girls but he never crosses a line, he never stimulates a discussion that might give rise to a riot, never is his tone demeaning and he is not really pushing his readers into believe anything that might spur world-wide violence. He even takes the pain to put a few ‘politically correct’ words (almost forcefully) into the mouths of his characters before closing the book as a precautionary measure just to clarify that he meant no harm, his tone is the unmistakable NO-OFFENCE-WITH-ALL-DUE-RESPECT thereby separating himself from the Rushdie brigade (maybe wisely so).

Snow is a kind of book which will remain with you for a very long time and you might often confuse its memories with fragments of your own half remembered dreams.