Excerpt from Snow by Orhan Pamuk, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by Orhan Pamuk

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    Aug 2004, 448 pages
    Apr 2005, 448 pages

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They sat on old divans and crooked chairs in tiny icy rooms with earthen floors covered by machine-made carpets, and every time they moved from one house to the next, the number of dwellings seemed to have multiplied. Each time they went outside they had to make their way past children kicking broken plastic cars, one-armed dolls, or empty bottles and boxes of tea and medicine back and forth across the way. As they sat next to stoves that gave out no heat unless stirred continuously, and electric heaters that ran off illegal power lines, and silent television sets that no one ever turned off, they heard about the never-ending woes of Kars.

They listened to mothers who were in tears because their sons were out of work or in jail, and to bathhouse attendants who worked twelve-hour shifts in the hamam without earning enough to support a family of eight, and to unemployed men who were no longer sure they could afford to go the teahouse because of the high price of a glass of tea. These people complained and complained about the unemployment rate, their bad luck, the city council, and the government, tracing their every problem to the nation and the state. As they traveled from house to house, listening to these tales of hardship, a moment arrived when, in spite of the white light coming in through the windows, Ka came to feel as if they had entered a shadow world. The rooms were so dark he could barely make out the shape of the furniture, so when he was compelled to look at the snow outside, it blinded him—it was as if a curtain of tulle had fallen before his eyes, as if he had retreated into the silence of snow to escape from these stories of misery and poverty.

The suicide stories he heard that day were the worst; they would haunt him for the rest of his life. It wasn't the elements of poverty or helplessness that Ka found so shocking. Neither was it the constant beatings to which these girls were subjected, or the insensitivity of fathers who wouldn't even let them go outside, or the constant surveillance of jealous husbands. The thing that shocked and frightened Ka was the way these girls had killed themselves: abruptly, without ritual or warning, in the midst of their everyday routines.

There was one sixteen-year-old girl, for example, who had been forced into an engagement with an elderly teahouse owner; she had eaten her evening meal with her mother, father, three siblings, and paternal grandmother, just as she had done every evening; after she and her sisters had cleared the table with the usual amount of giggling and tussling, she went from the kitchen into the garden to fetch the dessert, and from there she climbed through the window into her parents' bedroom, where she shot herself with a hunting rifle. The grandmother, who heard the gunshot, ran upstairs to find the girl supposed to be in the kitchen lying dead on the floor in her parents' bedroom in a pool of blood; this old woman could not understand how her girl had managed to get from the kitchen to the bedroom, let alone why she would have committed suicide. There was another sixteen-year-old who, following the usual evening scuffle with her two siblings over what to watch on television and who would hold the remote control, and after her father came in to settle the matter by giving her two hard whacks, went straight to her room and, finding a big bottle of a veterinary medicine, Mortalin, knocked it back like a bottle of soda. Another girl, who had married happily at the age of fifteen, had given birth six months ago; now, terrorized by the beatings given her by her depressed and unemployed husband, she locked herself in the kitchen after the daily quarrel. Her husband guessed what she was up to, but she had already prepared the rope and the hook in the ceiling, so before he could break down the door she had hanged herself.

It fascinated Ka, the desperate speed with which these girls had plunged from life into death. The care they had taken—the hooks put into the ceiling, the loaded rifles, the medicine bottles transferred from pantry to bedroom—suggested suicidal thoughts they'd carried around with them for a long time.

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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