Reading Snow by Orhan Pamuk was grueling. It was difficult. Couldn't really like the main character, Ka, or was the main character really the narrator, Orhan, who, by the way, is the name of the author, Orhan, who turns around on the last pages and asks the reader how is he supposed to tell the story, of the story we just read.
Confused or not, don't care, or do, the discussions of Snow were revealing and spoke clearly to who we are as readers and individuals.
Snow, the Turkish tale of a poet journalist expat trying to return home to either report on an outbreak of suicides by girls wanting to cover their heads or find his true love, or maybe not, Ipek, is a book of "hidden symmetries" as the narrator explains. But I'll get to that in a minute. Most importantly, Snow should be digested as Turkey's own search for identity. This is not easy.
We, in the United States, are young. Young in history and thus young in our identity. When we only have to tap 250-ish years of happenings-American Indians completely ignored-then we have only a few layers to add to the stable of "American" characteristics. I'm leaving aside the political upheaval of late.
However, to be "Turkish," is to define, mine and select what history of Turkey makes one a Turk. How many centuries before the Common Era does one chose to dig in order to fill their cart with Turkey? Does one rely on geography? Religion? Politics? Is the definition of Turkish include the Hellenistic period? The Byzantium? The Ottoman Reign? Anaturk's Turkey? Erdogan's? The drift of Snow rests upon this confusion of identity.
Pamuk's Snow illustrates the defaults of Turkey's geography. Located as the nexus between the Middle East, Europe, Asia and Africa, it is no surprise that Turkey's identity, like each snowflake, is built with a unique pattern. Ka, makes the trek, a la Voltaire's Candide and Coehlo's The Alchemist, around, across and and back and forth through the city of Kars, meeting absurd characters, all with complicated pasts and contrarian advice for Ka's research into the suicides, his own identity and allegiance. Actually, with all that snow, it is really a schlep, and one that confused or disinterested many readers.
The cast of Kars characters is large. We meet an omniscient newspaper editor who prints the stories before they occur-exactly the way they end up occurring-offering yet another interpretation of "fake news." We meet an ex-Communist patriarch who never misses family time with his daughters: watching a daily afternoon Mexican television soap opera.
And there's Ka, himself, the wandering Turk with writer's block, until he consummates his relationship with the beautiful Ipek, and then his poetry spews and waits for nothing in order to burst words from his...pen.
The poems that Ka writes? These immediate deluges of brilliant prose that he pens? Not one drop appears in the book.
No one enjoyed reading Snow in my groups. No one. However, that does not diminish the book club reading experience. The observation that Snow is confusing, proves Pamuk's point. That people just weren't interested, speaks to perhaps the bad translation, "too American" according to British critics, or to the distance of caring: too far to be concerned, or to the Rushdie-like multi-faceted story-telling, real and semi-real story-line: too foreign for we readers of the straight-forward novel structure. Pamuk's Snow is a success whether the reader likes it or not. Like Heller's Catch-22 structure, Pamuk's storytelling itself, does the job.
Snow conveys the weight and fluidity of Turkey's identity. It is confusing and it is dense.
Next month I'll begin my eleventh year as a book discussion facilitator. From the beginning, I established that religion and politics would be left at the door. Our literary journey would be free from the morass of these elements. It was a great surprise when I opened The New York Times on Dec. 4, 2017, the first day of my Snow discussions, and found an editorial by Orhan Pamuk about elections. Before my exposure to Snow, I didn't even know how to pronounce his name (or-HAN pam-UK). Another benefit of book groups: exposing oneself to literature one otherwise would ignore. Not to mention, biblio-nexu.
I try to keep cultural fractures and opinions from crossing the paths of my discussions. Snow really challenged this edict. Surely, for 2018, I am going to need a new, bigger shovel. Or, perhaps my coined term "biblio-nexu" has in it, its own hidden symmetry.
Listen to my conservation about Snow with Jacksonville, Florida's NPR station 89.9 FM WJCT's Melissa Ross during the First Coast Connect Book Club