Summary and book reviews of Snow by Orhan Pamuk


by Orhan Pamuk

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  • First Published:
    Aug 2004, 448 pages
    Apr 2005, 448 pages

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Book Summary

A spellbinding tale of disparate yearnings – for love, art, power, and God – set in a remote Turkish town, where stirrings of political Islamism threaten to unravel the secular order; by the winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature.

From the acclaimed author of My Name Is Red comes a spellbinding tale of disparate yearnings–for love, art, power, and God–set in a remote Turkish town, where stirrings of political Islamism threaten to unravel the secular order.

Following years of lonely political exile in Western Europe, Ka, a middle-aged poet, returns to Istanbul to attend his mother's funeral. Only partly recognizing this place of his cultured, middle-class youth, he is even more disoriented by news of strange events in the wider country: a wave of suicides among girls forbidden to wear their head scarves at school. An apparent thaw of his writer's curiosity–a frozen sea these many years–leads him to Kars, a far-off town near the Russian border and the epicenter of the suicides.

No sooner has he arrived, however, than we discover that Ka's motivations are not purely journalistic; for in Kars, once a province of Ottoman and then Russian glory, now a cultural gray-zone of poverty and paralysis, there is also Ipek, a radiant friend of Ka's youth, lately divorced, whom he has never forgotten. As a snowstorm, the fiercest in memory, descends on the town and seals it off from the modern, westernized world that has always been Ka's frame of reference, he finds himself drawn in unexpected directions: not only headlong toward the unknowable Ipek and the desperate hope for love–or at least a wife–that she embodies, but also into the maelstrom of a military coup staged to restrain the local Islamist radicals, and even toward God, whose existence Ka has never before allowed himself to contemplate. In this surreal confluence of emotion and spectacle, Ka begins to tap his dormant creative powers, producing poem after poem in untimely, irresistible bursts of inspiration. But not until the snows have melted and the political violence has run its bloody course will Ka discover the fate of his bid to seize a last chance for happiness.

Blending profound sympathy and mischievous wit, Snow illuminates the contradictions gripping the individual and collective heart in many parts of the Muslim world. But even more, by its narrative brilliance and comprehension of the needs and duties

Chapter One

The silence of snow, thought the man sitting just behind the bus driver. If this were the beginning of a poem, he would have called the thing he felt inside him the silence of snow.

He'd boarded the bus from Erzurum to Kars with only seconds to spare. He'd just come into the station on a bus from Istanbul—a snowy, stormy, two-day journey—and was rushing up and down the dirty wet corridors with his bag in tow, looking for his connection, when someone told him the bus for Kars was leaving immediately.

He'd managed to find it, an ancient Magirus, but the conductor had just shut the luggage compartment and, being "in a hurry," refused to open it again. That's why our traveler had taken his bag on board with him; the big dark-red Bally valise was now wedged between his legs. He was sitting next to the window and wearing a thick charcoal coat he'd bought at a Frankfurt Kaufhof five years earlier. We should note straightaway that this soft, ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
After twelve years of political exile in Germany, the Turkish poet Ka returns to his native Istanbul for his mother’s 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 ...
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Media Reviews

The Washington Post - Ruth Franklin

Snow has none of the tautness of My Name Is Red; its action moves thickly, at times impenetrably. Clarity is not enhanced by a tone that at times jerks wildly from knowing sophistication to faux naiveté. This is a shock after the elegant control of My Name Is Red, and the non-Turkish-reading reviewer is inclined to blame the translator, who is new to Pamuk's work. Nevertheless, Pamuk's gift for the evocative image remains one of this novel's great pleasures Long after I finished this book, in the blaze of the Washington summer, my thoughts kept returning to Ka and Ipek in the hotel room, looking out at the falling snow.

Harper's Magazine - John Leonard

As if Nabokov and Rushdie had taken their circus act on the road, or Carlos Fuentes were Anatolian instead of Aztec, or Milan Kundera remembered how to laugh.

Megan O'Grady, Vogue

Powerful . . . Astonishingly timely . . . A deft melding of political intrigue and philosophy, romance and noir . . . [Snow] is forever confounding our expectations.

The New York Times Sunday Book Review - Margaret Atwood

This seventh novel from the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk is not only an engrossing feat of tale-spinning, but essential reading for our times.

Booklist - Joanne Wilkinson

Pamuk mixes elements of the fable, a heavy dose of metaphysics, and great swathes of artificial, stilted dialogue as he slowly, ever so slowly, parses the differences between the secular and the faithful. Strictly for determined readers with a passion for international literature and a familiarity with Islam.

Publishers Weekly

Pamuk's reputation--bigger outside the U.S. than in--enjoyed a boost with 2001's My Name Is Red. This timely, thoughtful and demanding book may see it grow further.

Library Journal - Marc Kloszewski

Like Pamuk's previous My Name Is Red, this story is thick with detail concerning the country's background; it does take some time to introduce all the characters. Once everyone is in place, however, the novel picks up and ultimately is a worthwhile read for those interested in a closer look at the hot topics of religion, its devout followers, and what arises from such passions.

Kirkus Reviews

Internationally acclaimed Turkish writer Pamuk (My Name is Red, 2001, etc) vividly embodies and painstakingly explores the collision of Western values with Islamic fundamentalism.

New Statesman (UK) - Julian Evan

Profound and frequently brilliant . . . Pamuk shows decisively that the European novel remains a form, and a freedom, for which we have reason to be thankful . . . Snow illuminate[s] the confrontation between secular and extremist Islamic worlds better than any work of nonfiction I can think of.

Independent on Sunday (UK) - Stephen O'Shea

A melancholy farce full of rabbit-out-of-a-hat plot twists that, despite its locale, looks uncannily like the magic lantern show of misfire, denial, and pratfall that appears daily in our newspapers . . . Pamuk gives convincing proof that the solitary artist is a better bellwether than any televised think-tanker.

Financial Times (UK) - Angel Gurria-Quintana

An urgent question seethes at the heart of Orhan Pamuk's latest novel ‘Can the West endure any democracy achieved by enemies who in no way resemble them?' Judging by the Turkish author's devastating parable of political extremism, the answer is no ... As in The White Castle and My Name is Red, Pamuk elegantly dissects the recurrent quandary in Turkish history - look westwards, or inwards and backwards. ... Never one to flinch from the weighty issues of Turkey's past and present history, Pamuk is here at his most political yet.

The Times (UK) - Bel Mooney

A novel of profound relevance to the present moment. The debate between the forces of secularism and those of religious fanaticism is conducted with subtle, painful insight into the human weakness that can underlie both impulses.

The Observer (UK) - Sarah Emily Miano

'How much can we ever know about love and pain in another's 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?' Such questions haunt the poet Ka . . . [in] this novel, as much about love as it is about politics.

Daily Telegraph Tom Payne

Pamuk uses his powers to show us the critical dilemmas of modern Turkey. How European a country is it? How can it respond to fundamentalist Islam? And how can an artist deal with these issues? . . . He is the sort of writer for whom the Nobel Prize was invented.

Spectator (UK) - John de Falbe

Snow has already been a bestseller in Turkey - given Pamuk's stature as a novelist and the novel's content it could hardly fail to be. But what makes it a brilliant novel is its artistry. Pamuk keeps so many balls in the air that you cannot separate the inquiry into the nature of religious belief from the examination of modern Turkey, the investigation of East-West relations, and the nature of art itself ... All this rolled into a gripping political thriller.

Sunday Herald (UK) - Ron Butlin

What a pleasure it is when we come across some really fine fiction now and again. From its opening words, Orhan Pamuk's new novel Snow stands out from the contemporary slush ... Without ever drifting into the doldrums of meditation, Pamuk has managed to write a novel of ideas in the form of a highly dramatic story. This he achieves by a skilful, and very natural blending of the techniques of poetry and prose ... When it first came out in Turkey in 2002, Snow angered Westernised Turks and Islamists alike. This ambivalence complements the novel's construction which grows, most satisfyingly, out of one single image - an elegance which gives to the whole a profound sense of unity, and fragility. Snow is a genuine tour-de-force.

Reader Reviews

Joe V

Snow is a book that did capture my sensibilities like nothing else. It deals with a good lot of issues, all of which are the so significant in the present world. It depicts the opposing forces of Western secularist forces and the so-called ...   Read More


While not as complex and captivating as The Black Book was, Snow is still very much worth reading. It is very relevant to present political conditions and questions without being too heavy handed, judgemental or simplistic.

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Beyond the Book

Orhan Pamuk was born in 1952 in Istanbul, Turkey and, other than a couple of years in New York, has lived all his life in Istanbul.  He started to write regularly in 1974, and his books have been translated into about 20 languages.  I believe Snow is his seventh book, but only his fifth to be translated into English.  Previous books are The White Castle, 1991 (Beyaz Kale), The Black Book, 1995 (Kara Kitap), New Life, 1997 (Yeni Hayat) and My Name Is Red, 2001.  The words in brackets are the ...

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