Friday, March 17, 2006

In a small Turkish town

by Orhan Pamuk

"'If only to see themselves as wise and superior and humanistic, they need to think of us as sweet and funny, and convince themselves that they sympathize with the way we are and even love us. But if you put in what I've just said, at least your readers will keep a little room for doubt in their minds.'"

I did think of the characters in Snow as sweet and funny. And I did sympathize with them -- even the political Islamists -- and love them. Then on the last page, someone tells the narrator to write in his book that we shouldn't believe anything he's written.

Snow is one of the few novels that employs meta fiction (and it does so just a little bit, hardly noticeable really) without being clever about it. It turns out that it's not such a bad technique in the right hands.

Pamuk's protagonist, Ka, returns to Turkey for his mother's funeral after years of exile in Germany. Ka goes to a small town, cut off from the rest of the country after a snowstorm, where he is ostensibly researching an article on a series of suicides by devout Muslim girls. A number of people criticize him -- sometimes with hostility -- for being or trying to be Western.

Against the (unmentioned) backdrop of Turkey's official desire for inclusion in the European Union, this presents something of a conflict -- not in the novel so much, although it's a problem for Ka, but in real-life Europe.

Recently, charges that Pamuk had denigrated Turkey were dropped. He wrote last year about facing trial.

"Living as I do in a country that honors its pashas, saints, and policemen at every opportunity but refuses to honor its writers until they have spent years in courts and in prisons, I cannot say I was surprised to be put on trial. I understand why friends smile and say that I am at last 'a real Turkish writer.' But when I uttered the words that landed me in trouble I was not seeking that kind of honor."


Maliavale said...

You read fast. I'm scared of you.

Airhen said...

I checked out too many books, so there's pressure.