Tucked in a far corner of Turkey – ‘Snow’ by Pamuk
Snow is the story of a forty-two year old Turkish exile living in Germany, who returns to a small town of Kars, situated in the north-eastern Turkey. Kars is suffering from a strange suicide epidemic among women. It is on the verge of a coup, a coup by the Kemalists to save it from falling in the clutches of either the political Islamists or the modernists. An education official who had banned the use of headscarves is brutally murdered by an Islamic terrorist. Kars has complex history with Armenian and Russian layers under the Turkish ones.
Being post-modern, it has its confusing points – a near-absurdist plot, a dreamlike sequence of events, and caricatures which are not individuals enough. The speech of the Islamic terrorist, in which he tells the education official the reason of assassinating him, is the only non-modernist text in the novel. All these things make it a little difficult read. But it has flow and structure. Under all this post-modern paraphernalia, there are real issues discussed, like the rise of political Islam, the Westernization of Turkey, and the struggle between the Kemalists, the Communists and the Islamists. It is the discussion of these real issues which hooks the reader to the book.
Istanbul, the non-fiction book of Pamuk makes one wonder that if Pamuk can write in simple non-post-modernist prose then why does he go so post-modernist in his fiction? Perhaps the reason is the nature of the sensitive issues he discusses in his books. In this world of political correctness where criticizing Islam is a taboo; a world dominated by the Islamic apologists like Edward Said and Karen Armstrong, it takes a lot of courage and defiance to write about the issues Pamuk writes. His predecessors from the Islamic world like Naguib Mahfouz and Farag Fouda, who tried to criticize Islam, paid a heavy price. Maybe this is why Pamuk shrouds these issues in his post-modernist plots.
If you are sufficiently interested in all these issues – Islam, Islamization vs. Westernization, the East-West conflict of Turkey – then you will happily wade through Snow.