Winter is slumber and sprung is rhythm


Poets ought to be be first against the wall when revolution comes. In Snow, ominously, Turkey's favourite export/exile is visiting the tiny border town of his youth when an apocalyptic fall of snow precipitates a bloody take-over by romantic Republicans; yet he alone is most able to deal with the machinations and demands of the one-time actor who leads the revolutionary forces. While all he wants to do is marry his childhood sweetheart İpek and carry her back to Frankfurt, poor Ka finds himself negotiating with Blue, the outlawed Muslim "terrorist" and lover of İpek's sister, covering the spate of suicides of young headscarved women, and performing his poetry immediately prior to the bloody coup, the details of which recall the theatre siege in Moscow back in 2002. Suddenly it's not enough that Ka should leave the town happy and in love; he must ensure he is alive and well at the same time.

The task Pamuk has set himself is to blend politics, poetry and religion in the same novel. Far more novelists have failed than have succeeded in this task in the past; in a sense, like the axes of the snowflake Ka uses to construct his nineteen-pointed book of poems, these three topics seem to shun each other's company, especially nowadays that religion seems scarcely a subject on which one might wax lyrical and yet be scared of making political. But we needn't worry. Snow is a wonderful book, missing its central pivot of Ka's last writings but, as if to compensate, studded with gems of "found" poetry, often of great significance when measured against the religious and political upheavals in Kars. Pamuk brings some of these closer to our attention in chapter titles: "Do they have a different God in Europe?" "It is not poverty that brings people like us close to God." "The difference between love and the agony of waiting."

With the geometry and symmetry inherent in each snowflake, Pamuk has crafted a novel of such balance and poise that it occasonally treads the fine line between intricacy and affectation. His characters make complex pronouncements---often in an apparently simplistic way, like country folk dispensing their rough-hewn, doubt-at-your peril wisdom---but this manages in a sense to communicate the non-western aspects of life in Kars rather than undermine the realism of the story. Ka accretes a web of politicking and intrigue that informs both his poetry and his plans for a future with İpek. The symbiotic dance of media and the small societies it influences and is influenced by is accurately and cleverly choreographed, with the preprinted papers deciding on one future, Ka another, yet often a third, subtler plot twist undermining them both.

Even in translation, where we lose such hints as the assonance in Ka/kar/Kars/karmak (the poet's name/snow/the town's name/to mix or shuffle) the links and allusions are still rich and rewarding. It's impossible to overestimate the sheer number of details which Pamuk presses together in this book: it's a timely novel, reminiscent in its ponderous, beautiful structures of Chekhov or Dostoevsky; or, perhaps more appositely, the unique six-sided fractals that permeate the novel.