Snow (Pamuk novel)

Snow (Turkish: Kar) is a postmodern novel by Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk. Published in Turkish in 2002, it was translated into English by Maureen Freely and published in 2004. The story encapsulates many of the political and cultural tensions of modern Turkey and successfully combines humor, social commentary, mysticism, and a deep sympathy with its characters.

First edition (Turkish)
AuthorOrhan Pamuk
Original titleKar
TranslatorMaureen Freely
Publication date
Published in English
2004, Faber and Faber
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages426 pp.
ISBN0-375-70686-0 (United States ed.)

Kar is the word for Snow, but the main character also abbreviates his name to Ka (his initials), with the novel set in the eastern Turkish city of Kars. An opening (and recurring) theme concerns reasons behind a suicide epidemic among teenage girls (which actually took place in the city of Batman[1][2]).

Plot summary

Though most of the early part of the story is told in the third person from Ka's point of view, an omniscient narrator sometimes makes his presence known, posing as a friend of Ka's who is telling the story based on Ka's journals and correspondence. This narrator sometimes provides the reader with information before Ka knows it or foreshadows later events in the story. At times, the action seems somewhat dream-like. The story is set in the city of Kars which creates a sense of alienation for Ka as the city is unlike anywhere else in Turkey, due to its history as a Russian garrison town.[3]

Ka is a poet, who returns to Turkey after 12 years of political exile in Germany. He has several motives, first, as a journalist, to investigate a spate of suicides but also in the hope of meeting a woman he used to know. Heavy snow cuts off the town for about three days during which time Ka is in conversation with a former communist, a secularist, a fascist nationalist, a possible Islamic extremist, Islamic moderates, young Kurds, the military, the Secret Service, the police and in particular, an actor-revolutionary. In the midst of this, love and passion are to be found. Temporarily closed off from the world, a farcical coup is staged and linked melodramatically to a stage play. The main discussion concerns the interface of secularism and belief but there are references to all of Turkey's twentieth century history.


Ka reunites with a woman named İpek, whom he once had feelings for, whose father runs the hotel he is staying in. Ipek is divorced from Muhtar, partly due to Muhtar's newfound interest in political Islam. In a café, Ka and Ipek witness the shooting of the local Director of the Institute of Education by a Muslim extremist from out of town. The shooter blames the director for the death of a young woman named Teslime, claiming she killed herself because of the director's ban on head-scarves in school. After the incident, Ka visits Muhtar, who tells him about his experience of finding Islam, which relates to a blizzard and meeting a charismatic sheikh named Saadettin Efendi. The police pick up Ka and Muhtar as part of their investigation of the Director's murder. Ka is questioned and Muhtar is beaten.

Though he has suffered from writer's block for a number of years, Ka suddenly feels inspired and composes a poem called "Snow", which describes a mystic experience. Other poems follow. At İpek's suggestion, Ka goes to see Sheikh Saadettin and confesses that he associates religion with a backwardness that he does not want himself or Turkey to fall into. But he feels a sense of comfort with the sheikh and begins to accept his new poems as gifts from God.

Other significant characters Ka encounters include a wanted Muslim radical named Blue and İpek's younger sister Kadife, who has become the leader of the "head-scarf girls", those who insist upon being "covered". Through Kadife, he meets another head-scarf girl, Hande, who suggested suicide to Teslime but insists she did not intend for the girl to follow through. Throughout the book, the insistence upon wearing a head-scarf, which places these girls in opposition to the state authorities and entails enormous pressures and sacrifices, is described as an act of empowerment and assertion of their identity as women; in one passage, Ka refers to them as "Islamic Feminists".

Ka is impressed by Necip, a student at the religious high school, who, like many of the young Muslims at the school, is quite taken by Kadife. The narrator lets the reader know that Necip will die soon. Growing tensions between secularists and Islamists explode during a televised event at the National Theater. A secular group puts on a classic play condemning head scarves; during the play, a number of soldiers take positions on stage. The leader of the theater group receives a messenger and announces the death of the Director of the Institute of Education. Immediately after this, the soldiers on stage start firing at the audience. Necip is among those killed. The police and military establish martial law, and Ka is taken in for questioning because he has been seen with Islamists. He is shattered to find Necip's body in the morgue and identifies him as the one who led him to Blue.

Ka is taken to meet Sunay Zaim, an actor whose group put on the play at the National Theater and who is now orchestrating the round-ups and investigations of suspicious persons. Zaim is a staunch Turkish Republican, who has played political leaders such as Robespierre, Napoleon and Lenin, but whose dream of playing Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, was frustrated. As the snow has made the roads and railroads impassable, no outside authorities are able to intervene in the coup. The isolation of Kars, and Zaim's's old friendship with the officer in charge of the local garrison, enabled him to become a revolutionary dictator in real life as well as on the stage, for at least a few days — his act being simultaneously a coup d'état and a coup de théâtre.

Kadife then takes Ka to speak with Blue, her lover. Ka convinces Blue that he has a contact at a newspaper in Germany who will print a statement denouncing the coup if Blue can get support from non-Islamists. To further this fiction, Ka returns to his hotel to convince Kadife and İpek's leftist father Turgut Bey to collaborate on the statement. After the father and Kadife leave, Ka's longing for İpek is fulfilled when the two make love.

At this point, the narrator, who identifies himself as a novelist named Orhan, flashes forward four years and reveals that Ka spent the last years of his life obsessing over İpek and writing unsent letters to her before being murdered in Frankfurt. The narrator will play a much larger role in the story in the later chapters of the novel. We are clearly meant to identify the narrator with Orhan Pamuk himself, as he later names The Black Book as one of his works, as well as The Museum of Innocence, which he would publish in 2008.

Turgut Bey attends a meeting at which representatives from the various factions opposed to the coup, including Islamists, leftists, and Kurds, attempt to produce a coherent statement to the European press denouncing the action. After Blue is arrested and held by the nationalists, Ka negotiates a deal with Sunay Zaim that will result in Blue's release, as long as Kadife agrees to play a role in Zaim's production of Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy and removes her head-scarf on live television during the show. Both Kadife and Blue agree.

Ka is soon picked up and beaten by two secret policemen working for Z Demerkol, a nationalist, who is looking for Blue and also wants to counter what he sees as Ka's influence. He tells Ka that İpek had an affair with Blue while she was married to Muhtar and still keeps in contact with him. İpek confesses the affair and indicates that Kadife only got involved with Blue out of envy. Ka's jealousy is intense and the two fall asleep after weeping together. They reassure each other they can still be happy in Frankfurt. However, before they can leave, Ka must convince Kadife not to take her head-scarf off during the play, as both İpek and Turgut Bey have become very concerned at the possible reaction of the students from the religious school. Despite Ka's urging, Kadife insists on uncovering herself during the performance.

After a scene in which Ka is seen confused and tormented by feelings of pain and jealousy, the narrative describing events from his point of view abruptly breaks off. The narrator explains that Ka had left behind a detailed account of his acts and feelings while in Kars, but that there was no reference to his last hours in the city, and it is left to his friend Orhan to try to reconstruct these by following in Ka's footsteps, visiting the places where he had been and meeting the people he had met.

Ka's actions immediately after leaving the theater remain a mystery which is never completely untangled. Orhan is, however, able to establish that Ka was later taken by the military to the train station, where he was put on the first train scheduled to leave once the railroad reopened. Ka complied, but sent soldiers to retrieve İpek for him. However, just as İpek said her farewells to her father, news arrived that Blue and Hande were shot. İpek was shattered and blamed Ka for leading the police to Blue's hideout. Instead of going to Ka, she and her father went to the theater to see Kadife.

The novel's narrator then describes events at the theater as if he has reconstructed them from various sources. Kadife and Zaim have an on-stage discussion about suicide and the different reasons why men and women kill themselves. A garret and noose are set up, and Zaim hands Kadife a gun after he demonstrates that it is not loaded. When Kadife shoots Zaim, much of the audience assumes his death is staged, and even Kadife appears to be surprised that the gun is in fact loaded. Zaim had clearly prepared and orchestrated his own death on stage, "pushing art to its farthest limits" and preferring to die at the peak of his theatrical and political career. Soon afterwards, as the snow has subsided, Ka's train departs and local authorities enter the town to stifle the coup and restore order.

Years later, the narrator goes to Kars to uncover details on Ka's story. He meets with many of the principals, including Kadife, who served very little time for what was ruled an accidental homicide and is now married to a student from the religious school. Meeting İpek, the narrator himself falls deeply in love with her and becomes intensely jealous of his dead friend (and of the dead Blue). He tells İpek that Ka was a shattered man who never forgot about her, but was prevented from returning to Kars owing to a warrant for his arrest. İpek is still convinced that Ka betrayed Blue. Indeed, the narrator finds evidence that suggests that Ka went back to talk to the police after his visit to the theater and probably told them where to find Blue. İpek has remained unmarried, does not expect to ever find love again, and devotes herself to her nephew.

In the end it is disclosed that a new group of Islamic militants was formed by younger followers of Blue who had been forced into exile in Germany and based themselves in Berlin, vowing to take revenge for the death of their admired leader. It is assumed that one of them assassinated Ka and took away the only extant copy of the poems he had written in Kars. Thus, while much is told about the names of these poems, their themes and the circumstances under which each was written, the poems themselves are lost.

Awards and prizes

See also


  1. Bilefsky, Dan (2006-07-12). "'Virgin suicides' save Turks' 'honor' – Europe – International Herald Tribune". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-05-13.
  2. Bilefsky, Dan (2006-07-16). "How to Avoid Honor Killing in Turkey? Honor Suicide". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-05-13.
  3. "The Russian Houses of Kars". Minor Sights. September 2014. Retrieved 3 November 2014.
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