The famous book by Orhan Pamuk. A brave book. A masterpiece.
Well, it is.
Not an easy read, though. A book with a relatively simple plot but with rich symbolism, an array of characters and countless references to history, religion and politics.
The main character comes to a Turkish city of Kars for an unclear reason. Apparently, as a journalist to cover the story of the municipal elections but at the same time to uncover the reason for the girl suicide epidemic that has fallen on Kars. Like the snow that winter. Heavily.
However, with time, we learn that his reason is totally different. He wants to win his student crush – Ipek who, he learnt, is separated from her husband. He obsesses about her even after many years when he dies alone in Frankfurt.
While he wanders the streets of Kars, in a half dream, meeting some notorious personas, sheikhs and terrorists, there is a tragedy falling on the Kars citizens in a form of a military coup on stage.
As the story develops, we see a picture of Turkey with the secret military agents bugging everybody everywhere, zealots living next door to the secular Turks, backwardness and the ubiquitous headscarf. It’s supposed to be what Turkey is really like.
It doesn’t give a good impression, does it?
A country where girls commit suicides to stand for their pride.
A country where the government is not afraid to shoot its citizens.
A country where you cannot feel safe. Where you have a label.
A Turk. A Kurd. An Armenian. An Azeri.
A yabanci (like me).
It’s a beautiful book, about love but primarily about politics and religion. The characters com from various layers of the society. Like in Canterbury Tales.
A poet on exile
A religious leader
A spiritual leader
A secret service agent
A motley crew through the sleepy journey.
It’s almost like a theatre scene set for a tragedy with the main character doomed to fail from the start accompanied by a chorus of the headscarved girls.
So with so many references, what is this book all about?
Turkish history and ideals?
A bit of all that.
A story of a complex country with a complex history and complex emotions.
Nothing is black or white.
Terrorists can be loved and poets can be hated.
Innocents can be killed.
You die alone.
And no one cares.