When, at ten o'clock at night, three hours behind schedule, the bus began its crawl through the snow-covered streets of Kars, Ka couldn't recognize the city at all. He couldn't even see the railroad station, where he'd arrived twenty years earlier by steam engine, nor could he see any sign of the hotel to which his driver had taken him that day (following a full tour of the city): the Hotel Republic, "a telephone in every room." It was as if everything had been erased, lost beneath the snow. He saw a hint of the old days in the horse-drawn carriages here and there, waiting in garages, but the city itself looked much poorer and sadder than he remembered. Through the frozen windows of the bus, Ka saw the same concrete apartments that had sprung up all over Turkey during the past ten years, and the same Plexiglas panels; he also saw banners emblazoned with campaign slogans strung above every street.
He stepped off the bus. As his foot sank into the soft blanket of snow, a sharp blast of cold air shot up past the cuffs of his trousers. He'd booked a room at the Snow Palace Hotel. When he went to ask the conductor where it was, he thought two of the faces among the travelers waiting for their luggage looked familiar, but with the snow falling so thick and fast he couldn't work out who they were.
He saw them again in the Green Pastures Café, where he went after setting into his hotel: a tired and careworn but still handsome and eye-catching man with a fat but animated woman who seemed to be his lifelong companion. Ka had seen them perform in Istanbul in the seventies, when they were leading lights of the revolutionary theater world. The man's name was Sunay Zaim. As he watched the couple, he let his mind wander and was eventually able to work out that the woman reminded him of a classmate from primary school. There were a number of other men at their table, and they all had the deathly pallor that speaks of a life on the stage; what, he wondered, was a small theater company doing in this forgotten city on a snowy night in February? Before leaving the restaurant, which twenty years ago had been full of government officials in coats and ties, Ka thought he saw one of the heroes of the seventies' militant left sitting at another table. But it was as if a blanket of snow had settled over his memories of this man, just as it had settled over the restaurant and the failing, gasping city itself.
Were the streets empty because of the snow, or were these frozen pavements always so desolate? As he walked he took careful notice of the writing on the wallsthe election posters, the advertisements for schools and restaurants, and the new posters that the city officials hoped would end the suicide epidemic: human beings are god's masterpieces, and suicide is blasphemy. Through the frozen windows of a half-empty teahouse, Ka saw a group of men huddled around a television set. It cheered him just a little to see, still standing, these old stone Russian houses that in his memory had made Kars such a special place.
The Snow Palace Hotel was one of those elegant Baltic buildings. It was two stories high, with long narrow windows that looked out onto a courtyard and an arch that led out to the street. The arch was 110 years old and high enough for horse-drawn carriages to pass through with ease; Ka felt a shiver of excitement as he walked under it, but he was too tired to ask himself why. Let's just say it had something to do with one of Ka's reasons for coming to Kars.
Three days earlier, Ka had paid a visit to the Istanbul offices of the Republican to see a friend from his youth. It was this friend, Taner, who had told him about the municipal elections coming up and howjust as in the city of Batmanan extraordinary number of girls in Kars had succumbed to a suicide epidemic. Taner went on to say that if Ka wanted to write about this subject and see what Turkey was really like after his twelve-year absence, he should think of going to Kars; with no one else available for this assignment, he could provide Ka with a current press card; what's more, he said, Ka might be interested to know that their old classmate Ipek was now living in Kars. Although separated from her husband, Muhtar, she'd stayed on in the city and was living with her father and sister in the Snow Palace Hotel. As Ka listened to Taner, who wrote political commentaries for the Republican, he remembered how beautiful Ipek was.
Excerpted from Snow by Orhan Pamuk Copyright© 2004 by Orhan Pamuk. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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