448 pp., $26.00
by Laurance Wieder
The Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, like Anton Chekhov and Ivan Turgenev, creates characters who are thoroughly human, sympathetic and unique. His people, and he counts himself among them, are both hostages to personal hope and instruments of historical circumstance; captives of their own convictions and the certainties of others. Like Chekhov, Pamuk deploys a realism that represents the tragic and the comic as the same thing. Like Turgenev, he refuses to allow history or politics to diminish humanity. Neither does he romantically color human weakness or moral lapse. Melodrama is the stuff of distraction. Perfection is the province of monsters and artists.
Snow was finished in December, 2001, and published the following year in Istanbul under the title Kar. The principle definition of kar is "snow"; so it appears in Maureen Freely's artful translation. Besides snow, the dictionary also defines kar as: account; benefit; gain; profit; take; takings; and bank. As a verb, kar means: to do, to make, to create; to produce.
The novel is at first glance a sharply drawn, picaresque political adventure interwoven with a love story and punctuated by odd incident and peculiar violence. Its hero, Ka, is a kind of holy fool for language, a blocked Turkish ÉmigrÉ poet returned from exile in Germany. The plot follows him on journalistic assignment to the provincial city of Kars in Northeast Turkey—adjacent to Georgia, Iran, and Syria, once part of Armenia. There's a municipal election coming up, and a series of suicides among schoolgirls forced to abandon their Islamic headscarves has attracted interest in the Western press. Self-consciously a somewhere that's nowhere now, Kars is the scene of a lot of history, a domicile for religious enthusiasm and long-standing grudge. All the time, it snows.
At second glance, Snow reveals itself as a narrative of classic Arabic-Persian construction—a series of tales-within-a-tale, supremely instanced in the Thousand and One Nights—crossbred with the ...