Snow by Orhan Pamuk

I haven’t read any of Orhan Pamuk’s other novels, so I can’t judge the quality of his work, but Snow is a pretty good excursion into both the emptiness of modern life and the wretchedness of being a beta male. I don’t care for Pamuk’s postmodern trickery (for example, he inserts himself as a character near the end), but Snow is otherwise a tightly written and engaging novel.

The plot concerns Ka, a Turkish poet living in Germany, and his journey to the far eastern Turkish city of Kars to report on a spate of suicides by young women. That turns out to be a cover; Ka is actually pursuing İpek, a former schoolmate of his he crushed on and who recently divorced her husband. Yep, he’s that kind of sap. It’s later revealed that Ka practically lived like an “herbivore man” back in Deutschland; he dwelled in a filthy apartment and his only sexual experiences consisted of masturbating to porn tapes. And of course, it’s later revealed that while Ka was pining over her, İpek was sleeping with Blue, an Islamist terrorist living in hiding from the military.

She had enormous olive-colored eyes with a slight cast to them. Her skin was fair, her legs were long, her lips, which an Ottoman court poet might have likened to cherries, were small but full. She was quite well known. The video section of the World Sex Center was open twenty-four hours a day, but it took me only twenty minutes to locate six films bearing her name. I smuggled these videos back to Istanbul, and only after having watched them did I begin to have some sense of what Ka might have been feeling. Whatever sort of man it was she was kneeling before—he could be the coarsest, ugliest fellow in the world—Melinda always responded to his moans of ecstasy in the same way: Her pale face softened with a compassion unique to mothers. No matter how provocative in costume (whether as an impatient businesswoman, a frolicsome stewardess, or a housewife tired of her ineffectual husband), she was always fragile and vulnerable when naked. As I would later come to see on making my own visit to Kars, there was something of İpek in her manner, her large eyes, and her curvaceous body.

Pamuk originally intended Snow to serve as an explanation of the appeal of radical Islam to Turks both poor and elite, though with 9/11 more than a decade behind us, that theme seems awfully quaint. Still, Snow is an affecting novel well worth reading.

Click here to buy Snow.

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