Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
ABOUT THIS BOOK
After twelve years of political exile in Germany, the Turkish poet Ka returns
to his native Istanbul for his mothers funeral. There he is asked by a friend
at a newspaper to travel to the remote Anatolian town of Kars to report on the
municipal elections, as well as on a disturbing series of suicides by women who
have been forbidden by the secular government to wear their head scarves at
school. He arrives in Kars in the midst of a snowstorm that lasts for three
days, cutting the town off from the greater world, and is quickly drawn into an
intricate set of circumstances. He meets his beautiful friend Ipek, who has
recently separated from her husband, and quickly falls in love with her. He
witnesses an assassination, finds himself discussing the possible existence of
God with an idealistic student from the Islamic high school, is taken to a
meeting with a reputed Islamic terrorist and, after four years without writing a
single poem, is visited with a series of poems that arrive fully formed in his
mind. While the reason for the womens suicides remains a mystery, Ka is caught
up in a theatrically staged military coup intended to punish the political
Islamists whose power is on the rise in Kars.
Balancing empathy and wit, irony and pathos, Snow
profound difficulties and contradictions of life in lands like Turkey, where
western-style democracy and Islamic fundamentalism are dangerously at odds.
is a riveting and important work by one of contemporary fictions most
- Almost immediately after the novel opens, the narrator speaks in first
person directly to the reader and concludes his interjection of Kas
biographical details with the statement: I dont wish to deceive you. Im
an old friend of Kas, and I begin this story knowing everything that will
happen to him during his time in Kars [p. 5]. Later, during his report of
Kas conversation with Necip, the narrator says of Necip, With a
childishness that amazed Ka, he opened his large green eyes, one of which
would be shattered in fifty-one minutes [p. 134]. With these direct
statements of the narrators foreknowledge, what happens to the fictional
conventions of plot and suspense? How does learning that the narrators name
is Orhan, and that hes written something called The Black Book [p.
425], affect the readers reception of the story?
- Kas mood at the beginning of the story is dreamlike and nostalgic: As
slowly and silently as the snow in a dream, the traveler fell into a
long-desired, long-awaited reverie; cleansed by memories of innocence and
childhood, he succumbed to optimism and dared to believe himself at home in
this world [p. 4]. Does Ka remain in this state of optimism and seeming
innocence throughout his stay in Kars? As an exile, he is moved by a sense
of returning home; does he make a mistake by believing himself at home
enough to become involved in the affairs of Kars?
- While Ka and Ipek are having coffee in the New Life Pastry Shop, they
witness the murder of the director of the Institute of Education. Discuss
the conversation between the Institute director and the young man who has
been sent to assassinate him [pp. 3848]. What are the elements that make
the scene so effective?
- The brief history of Kars on pages 1921 describes a place at the
crossroads of two empires now defunct, which has seen endless wars,
rebellions, massacres, and atrocity. Despite Kemal Atatürks westernizing
ideology (reinforced brutally by the military), Kars is sunk in poverty and
hopelessness; its bourgeoisie has fled. Muhtar says, The city of Kars and
the people in itit was as if they werent real. Everyone wanted to die or
to leave. . . . It was as if Id been erased from history, banished from
civilization [p. 53]. How has the towns history shaped its inhabitants
ideas about themselves and their future?
- Kas conversations with Muhtar, Blue, the boys from the religious high
school, Sheikh Efendi, and Kadife [chapters 6, 8, 9, 11,13] explore the gap
between traditional Islam and Western secularism. How do these conversations
affect Kas sense of his spiritual condition? How strongly does he need to
identify himself as a secular intellectual, and why is the possibility of
his own belief in God, which he admits to, so unsettling to him?
- Karl Marx said, Hegel remarks somewhere that history tends to repeat
itself. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as
farce [The Eighteenth Brumiare of Louis Bonaparte]. In
the novels most farcical and tragic moments, theatrical impresario Sunay
Zaim and his allies the military police stage their own intervention in the
history of Kars. Does Pamuk, in these episodes so central to the story, seem
to share Marxs pessimism?
- Blue tells a story from the ancient epic Shehname: Once upon a
time, millions of people knew it by heart. . . . But now, because weve
fallen under the spell of the West, weve forgotten our own stories [p.
78]. What does he imply when he asks Ka, Is this story so beautiful that a
man could kill for it? [p. 79]
- At least three different perspectives are given on the suicide girls.
The deputy governor tells Ka, What is certain is that these girls were
driven to suicide because they were extremely unhappy. . . . But if
unhappiness were a genuine reason for suicide, half the women in Turkey
would be killing themselves [p. 14]; Ipek says, The men give themselves to
religion, and the women kill themselves [p. 35]. Kadife argues that women
commit suicide to save their pride [p. 112]. Does the novel provide an
answer to the mystery of why women are killing themselves?
- Speaking with Muhtar, Ka says, If I were an author and Ka were a
character in a book, Id say, Snow reminds Ka of God! But Im not sure it
would be accurate. What brings me close to God is the silence of snow [p.
60]. Why does the snow make Ka think of God? How do Kas thoughts about his
own religious beliefs change throughout the novel?
- In getting involved with the various factions in Kars, does Ka act on
his own behalf, or as the pawn of others? Is he actually, and knowingly, a
double agent? As the plot progresses and Ka is moving back and forth between
rival groups, what becomes most confusing? Does the readers experience
mirror Kas spiritual and moral bewilderment?
- When he travels to Kars, Ka enters another world: Raised in Istanbul
amid the middle-class comforts of Nisantas . . . Ka knew nothing of poverty;
it was something beyond the house, in another world [p. 18]. In the meeting
at the Hotel Asia, a Kurdish boy says, Ive always dreamed of the day when
Id have a chance to share my ideas with the world. . . . All Id want them
to print in that Frankfurt paper is this: Were not stupid, were just poor!
And we have a right to want to insist on this distinction [p. 275]. Later,
Orhan asks, How much can we ever know about love and pain in anothers
heart? How much can we hope to understand those who have suffered deeper
anguish, greater deprivation, and more crushing disappointments than we
ourselves have known? [p. 259] Why are these statements so central to the
problems of empathy and ethics presented in the novel?
- Does the epigraph from DostoevskyWell then, eliminate the people,
curtail them, force them to be silent. Because the European enlightenment is
more important than peoplesum up the Wests arrogant approach to
fundamentalist political movements? How is it relevant to the events in
- Everyone in Kars watches television constantly; they even use the
television to watch the coup as it takes place just outside their doors.
Given the deliberately theatrical nature of the coup, the uncertainty as to
whether the soldiers bullets are real, and Sunays death onstage during the
second performance, what does Pamuk suggest about the relationship between
history and fiction, reality and illusion?
- Does Ipek love Ka, or does she still love Blue? Does she betray Ka by
not going to Frankfurt with him [pp. 38890]? In an unsent letter, Ka wrote
to Ipek, I carry the scars of my unbearable suffering on every inch of my
body. Sometimes I think its not just you Ive lost, but that Ive lost
everything in the world [p. 260]. Was it foolish of Ka to think that he
would be able to have the happiness that love provides? Why does Ipek decide
not to go to Germany with him?
- Once a six-pronged snowflake crystallizes, it takes between eight and
ten minutes for it to fall through the sky, lose its original shape, and
vanish. . . . Ka decided that snowflakes have much in common with people. It
was a snowflake that inspired I, Ka [pp. 37576]. The poems that Ka
writes in his green notebook while in Kars (kar means snow) align with the
points on a snowflake. These poems, however, are never recorded in the
novel. How seriously should a reader take Kas efforts as a poet? What is
the significance of the fact that the poems are not available to the reader,
but instead we have a novel called Snow?
- In several of his novels, Pamuk has created characters who are doubles
or alter egos. Here he gives us Ka and the narrator as well as Necip and
Fazil. Late in the story, the narrator follows Kas trail on a reading tour
through various German cities; he wished to do exactly as Ka had done on
his own tour seven weeks earlier. . . I would wander through the cold
empty city and pretend I was Ka walking the same streets to escape the
painful memories of Ipek [p. 378379]. Upon following Kas trail to Kars,
he notes, I shouldnt want my readers to imagine that I was trying to
become his posthumous shadow [p. 380]. What do these statements imply?
- How is Kadife different from her sister Ipek ? What motivates her to go
onstage and bare her head in Sunays play? Is she a devout Muslim, or is
wearing the headscarf simply a costume necessary for her love affair with
- Reexamine Necips story [pp. 1047] once youve reached the end of the
novel. Has Necips tale foreseen the revelations about the narrator and his
love for Ipek, as well as Fazils marriage to Kadife? How does Necip live on
after his death? How does Ka?
Yesim Arat, Rethinking Islam and Liberal Democracy: Islamist Women in
Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God;
Fyodor Dostoevsky, Demons and Notes from Underground;
Gabriel García Márquez, Chronicle of a Death Foretold;
Jean Genet, The Balcony;
Nilüfer Göle, The Forbidden Modern: Civilization and Veiling;
Franz Kafka, The Castle;
Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being;
Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy;
Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire;
Afar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran;
Nicole Pope, et al., Turkey Unveiled;
Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past;
Salman Rushdie, Midnights Children;
Tayeb Salih, Season of Migration to the North;
Ivan Turgenev, First Love.
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Vintage.
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