A reader's guide to Kar

Updated Monday, 3rd March 2008
Our book of the month for March, written by Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, is entitled Kar (which translates into English as Snow). Stephanie Forward provides an introduction to the novel.

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Turkish author Orhan Pamuk was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 2006. He was hailed for making Istanbul "an indispensable literary territory, equal to Dostoevsky's St Petersburg, Joyce's Dublin or Proust's Paris".

Pamuk has caused controversy by tackling sensitive issues. In 2005 he was charged with "insulting Turkishness", after making remarks about the alleged genocide of Kurds and Armenians in Anatolia between 1915 and 1917.

Snow is set in an Anatolian city called Kars, and most of the action takes place in the early 1990s. Kars is cut off from the outside world for three days during a blizzard.

A disused hamam in Kars
An abandoned Hamam in Kars

The hero, Ka, has spent years in exile in Germany, but has returned to write about the municipal elections and to investigate an alarming series of deaths. A number of local girls have killed themselves, seemingly because they have been ordered to take off their headscarves when they attend college.

However, Ka has an additional mission in mind: he hopes to win the love of a former schoolmate, Ipek. Ka is caught up in a coup, during which extreme Islamists threaten the secular state.

The novel presents conflicting views; however. It takes the reader beyond politics and religion to consider art itself. For years Ka has been unable to write poems, until his experiences in Kars inspire him. Snow is the key image throughout the text, and Ka’s poems seem to fit together in the geometric outline of a snowflake – "all part of a grand design".

 

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