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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The first such suicide had come from the city of Batman, a hundred kilometers from Kars. All over the world, men are three or four times more likely to kill themselves than women; it was a young civil servant in the National Office of Statistics in Ankara who had first noticed that in Batman the number of female cases was three times greater than the number for males and four times greater than the world average for females. But when a friend of his at the Republican published this analysis in "News in Brief," no one in Turkey took any notice. A number of correspondents for French and German newspapers, however, did pick up on the item, and only after they had gone to Batman and published stories in the European press did the Turkish press begin to take an interest: at this point, quite a few Turkish reporters paid visits to the city.

According to officials, the press interest had served only to push more girls over the edge. The deputy governor of Kars, a squirrel-faced man with a brush mustache, told Ka that the local suicides had not reached the same statistical level as those in Batman, and he had no objection "at present" to Ka's speaking to the families, but he asked Ka to refrain from using the word suicide too often when speaking to these people and to take care not to exaggerate the story when he wrote it up in the Republican. A committee of suicide experts—including psychologists, police officers, judges, and officials from the Department of Religious Affairs—was already preparing to decamp from Batman to Kars; as a preliminary measure the Department of Religious Affairs had plastered the city with its suicide is blasphemy posters, and the governor's office was to distribute a pamphlet with the slogan as its title. Still, the deputy governor worried that these measures might produce the result opposite from the one intended—not just because girls hearing of others committing suicide might be inspired to do the same, but also because quite a few might do it out of exasperation with the constant lecturing from husbands, fathers, preachers, and the state.

"What is certain is that these girls were driven to suicide because they were extremely unhappy. We're not in any doubt about that," the deputy governor told Ka. "But if unhappiness were a genuine reason for suicide, half the women in Turkey would be killing themselves." He suggested that these women might be offended if they had to listen to a chorus of male voices remonstrating "Don't commit suicide!" This, he told Ka proudly, was why he had written to Ankara asking that the anti-suicide propaganda committee include at least one woman.

The idea that suicide might spread contagiously like the plague had first been suggested after a girl traveled all the way from Batman to Kars just to kill herself. Her family now refused to let Ka and Serdar Bey into the house, but the girl's maternal uncle agreed to speak with them outside. Smoking a cigarette, seated under the oleander trees of a snow-covered garden in the Atatürk district, he told her story. His niece had married two years earlier; forced to do housework from morning till night, she had also endured the incessant scolding of her mother-in-law for failing to conceive a child. But this alone would not have been enough to drive the girl to suicide; it was clear that she had got the idea from the other women killing themselves in Batman. Certainly the dear departed girl had seemed perfectly happy on visiting with her family here in Kars, so it was all the more shocking when—on the very morning she was due to return to Batman—they found a letter in her bed saying that she had taken two boxes of sleeping pills.

One month after the suicide idea had, as it were, infected Kars, this girl's sixteen-year-old cousin committed the first copycat suicide. With the uncle's coaxing, and having got Ka to promise that he would include the full story in his report, her tearful parents explained that the girl had been driven to suicide after her teacher accused her of not being a virgin. Once the rumor had spread all over Kars, the girl's fiancé called off the engagement, and the other young suitors—still coming to the house to ask for this beautiful girl's hand despite the betrothal—stopped coming too. At that point, the girl's maternal grandmother had started to say, "Oh, well, looks like you're never going to find a husband." Then one evening, as the whole family was watching a wedding scene on television and her father, drunk at the time, started crying, the girl stole her grandmother's sleeping pills and, having swallowed them all, went to sleep (not only the idea of suicide but also the method having proved contagious). When the autopsy revealed that the girl had actually been a virgin, her father blamed not just the teacher for spreading the lie but also his relative's daughter for coming from Batman to kill herself. And so, out of a wish to dispel the baseless rumors about their child's chastity and to expose the teacher who had started the malicious lie, the family decided to tell Ka the full story.

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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