Snow – Orhan Pamuk

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Orhan Pamuk won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006

Translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely

We don’t get much snow in England, so the moment I saw the first few flakes falling I decided it was time to dig this book out of my TBR pile. I am really pleased that I did as this is the perfect read for a cold Winter’s day. The icy atmosphere is prevalent throughout and having a layer of snow outside my window increased my enjoyment of this book.

If he hadn’t been so tired, if he’d paid more attention to the snowflakes swirling out of the sky like feathers, he might have realised that he was travelling straight into a blizzard; he might have seen from the start that he’d set out on a journey that would change his life for ever; he might have turned back.

Snow begins with a poet returning to Turkey after living in exile for twelve years in Germany. He travels to the remote town of Kars, where he poses as a journalist supposedly investigating the large number of suicides that have occurred there recently.

I loved the first third of the book – the character development, plot foreshadowing and snowy atmosphere created the perfect opening. Unfortunately the book went downhill for me in the middle, as it started to focus on politics and religious debate – subjects which I don’t enjoy reading about.

This is a very well written book, with a complex, multi-layered narrative. It used some interesting plot devices, including the introduction of the author, Orhan Pamuk, as a character. I’m sure this is a book which others would enjoy reading again and again.

I noticed many similarities with 2666, so I’m sure that if you enjoyed one book then you’d like the other. I’d love to know if Bolaño had read this before writing 2666, as certain aspects, especially the large number of deaths in a remote town, were very similar.

Overall, I’m really pleased that I read this book and even though my eyes started to glaze over when I read some of political discussion there was more than enough to keep me interested.

I recommend this book to all lovers of literary fiction, particularly those who enjoy political discussion.


Have you read anything written by Orhan Pamuk?

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  1. Bellezza says:

    I loved this book! I think it’s great that you were able to read it in winter, too, so fitting with all his imagery. I can still visualize portions of this book perfectly. It’s the only thing of his I’ve read, though, I still have to pick up My Name Is Red which is sitting in on of my bookcases.

    1. Jackie says:

      Bellezza, I have a copy of Red too. I hope that it is as good as this one.

  2. Sandy says:

    Another good one to read when there is a chill in the air is Smilla’s Sense of Snow. It has been years since I read it, but I remember being perpetually cold while reading it as it takes place in Iceland. I’ve been meaning to re-read it, I loved it so much.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I haven’t read Smilla’s Sense of Snow, but have seen the film so know how snowy it is! I would love to read it at some point, but need a few more years to forget about watching it.

  3. Amanda says:

    I’ve got this one on my shelf and want to read it at some point, but I hope the politics and stuff don’t get too much for me. :/

    1. Jackie says:

      Amanda, The politics do get too much in the middle, but I think it is still worth reading. There is enough of interest to make up for that section. I’d be interested to read your thoughts on it if you get round to reading it.

  4. diane says:

    So glad to read your favorable review. I have the print and the audio version of this book. I also have My Name is Red–sadly both are still unread (maybe 2010) will be their year :)

    1. Jackie says:

      diane, I’m not sure this would work on audio – it is a bit too deep and requires a bit of re-reading in places to fully understand what is happening. I hope that you manage to read some Pamuk in 2010.

  5. Unfortunately all I have to hear is that is shows similaries to 2666, and that ends if for me!

    1. Jackie says:

      rhapsodyinbooks, It is a lot shorter though! I can understand why comparisons to 2666 would put you off. Snow is a lot easier to read than 2666, but I think that if you didn’t enjoy 2666 at all then you might be right to avoid this one.

  6. raidergirl3 says:

    I’ve only read Pamuk’s nonfiction books – Istanbul and Other Colours and I enjoyed both, especially Istanbul. I have read such conflicting reviews of his fiction that I am slightly afraid to try them. Every positive review helps a bit.

    1. Jackie says:

      raidergirl3, It is good to know that his nonfiction is good – I must try that at some point too.

      I can see why Pamuk would divide people and why a lot of people wouldn’t like it. It does require some concentration, so wouldn’t be any good for those who like lighter, easy reads. I hope that you decide to read it one day – I think you’d enjoy his writing.

  7. Annabel says:

    We read Snow in our bookgroup back in 2006, and none of us got on with it very well. I just checked back to file – sadly I’d just written one word ‘Tedious’ which doesn’t help me remember it much. I do recall being intensely irritated by the main character though.

    For a snowy book I’d heartily recommend ‘The Peoples Act of Love’ by James Meek, set in Siberia. The novel combines a religious cult with a prison break, war and romance – it was a compelling read for me.

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, I can see why it could be labelled as tedious. It does require a bit of patience and re-reading to understand exactly what is happening. I didn’t find the main character irritating. I admit to ignoring the poems he wrote (I’m not a fan of poetry), but other than that I thought he was a very interesting person.

      It is good to know that The Peoples Act of Love is good – I have a copy and almost sent it to the charity shop, as I’d never heard anyone mention it – I’ll have to keep it now!

  8. Colleen says:

    I had a tough time with this book – I really struggled to get through it. I had about 25% of it left to complete when I accidentally left it in a hotel room while traveling. I took it as a sign that I didn’t need to finish it! Convenient, I know!

    1. Jackie says:

      Colleen, If you didn’t enjoy the first 75% then I don’t think you would have enjoyed the ending, so don’t worry about not finishing it.

      I always seem to lose great books when travelling – which can be expensive. You are lucky it was one you weren’t enjoying!

  9. Steph says:

    Orhan Pamuk is an author that I would really like to read one of these days. I’ve never heard of this book, but given the weather here in Toronto, it definitely sounds appropriate! ;) Of course the comparison to 2666 scares me off a bit (even though I do intend to try to finish it some day… it’s just not going to be a favourite with me), and I don’t exactly seek out books with excessive political discussion, but it sounds like an important and provocative book.

    Also, I noticed that you’re currently reading Generation A; I hope you are enjoying it! As you know, it was one of my favourite reads in 2009!

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I think that you are right – this is an important book rather than an entertaining one. Like 2666 it requires work, but I do think you’d find both rewarding in the end. I hope that you manage to finish 2666 and read an Orhan Pamuk book at some point.

      I am loving Generation A at the moment. I’m not very far in (50 pages) but can see that it has the potential to become a favourite. Fingers crossed I love the ending as much as the beginning!

  10. Mome Rath says:

    How rare that you got to read this book with snow outside! I’m glad you enjoyed the book despite the political and religious discussions in the middle. I actually enjoyed the discussion on whether a scarf is liberating or oppressing, though I was grimly awaiting what would happen at the theater thanks to the foreshadowing. Although I enjoyed Snow more than My Name is Red, I think the latter may be a less polarizing read; it’s more of a murder mystery during the Ottoman Empire. And how can you turn down a book with a chapter narrated by paint?
    I haven’t read 2666, but I may have to look into that for next year. I hope you and your family had a merry Christmas, and that you have a great New Year!

    1. Jackie says:

      Mome Rath, Reading a book with snow on the ground is a rare event in the UK – all the snow has now gone, so I only just managed to squeeze it in!

      I love the sound of My Name is Red and am very intrigued by the paint chapter! I own a copy already, so hopefully I’ll get to it in 2010.

  11. Emily says:

    Ooh, I’ve been curious about this novel for some time, and the comparison to 2666 definitely kicked it up in my mental queue. Thanks for the review!

    1. Jackie says:

      Emily, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this one once it gets to the top of your actual TBR queue!

  12. Priscilla says:

    Wonderful review! I have had this on my TBR since it was first published. IT doesn’t seem fair to let so many good books languish on my list! I was hoping to read 2666 this year, and it looks like I should finally try to make room for this as well.

    1. Jackie says:

      Priscilla, Thank you for your kind words. It is a shame there are so many great books out there – there is never time to read them all. I hope that you manage to fit this one in at some point.

  13. Carolyn says:

    I have read some of his material, I managed to read half of Istanbul: Memories and the City to coincide with another book written about the city, The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak Ishtabul. I also like to read books placed in the same weather conditions. I recommend In a Bleak Midwinter by Julie Spencer-Fleming for a good winter read.

    1. Jackie says:

      Carolyn, Thank you for commenting on my blog for the first time! Did you only read half of the book because you didn’t enjoy it?

      Thank you for the recommendation. I have heard of In a Bleak Midwinter, but not thought to get it before. I’ll keep an eye out for it now.

      1. Carolyn says:

        I can’t remember why I gave up on Istanbul, but I remember wanting to go back to him in the future.
        Our book group also read The People’s Act of Love last year. I thought there was a lot ot discuss. It was well written, a little bit confusing about what actually happens. I liked it for the unusual themes in the book. I know very little about Russian history. Books like these always want me to follow up with a nonfiction bok on the same theme.
        Example, Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, followed by The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir.
        I do like your plan to read all The Booker winners.

        1. Jackie says:

          Carolyn, I’m going to make sure I dig The People’s Acts of Love out of the pile soon – it does sound fantastic. I also want to read Daughter of Time, as I’ve heard a lot of great things about it. Thanks for reminding me about it.

  14. She says:

    I read this a few years ago. I just don’t think it was for me. While I liked it, I don’t know if I was… informed enough on certain issues to really grasp what was going on. I’d like to think I was knowledgeable on the subjects talked about, but I just don’t think I truly understood or was particularly taken with what was happening. While it was a good book and I can understand the merit of it, I just don’t think I got what I should’ve gotten out of it.

    Maybe now would be a better time to read it! :)

    1. Jackie says:

      She, I admit that I don’t think I was knowledgeable enough about certain subjects in the book, but I knew enough to realise the power of the words. I think that re-reading (especially after making yourself more familiar with the politics of the region) would make it even better.

  15. I’m glad to read your review on this. A friend of mine read it, and said it was incredibly boring, and she couldn’t get past the first five pages. I enjoyed The White Castle, and have My Name Is Red on my shelf at the moment. However, I think I’ve heard that Snow is one of Pamuk’s best books, so, I was quite disappointed with my friend’s comments.

    Your review seems so much more encouraging.

    1. Jackie says:

      anothercookiecrumbles, The first five pages were wonderful, so I’m not sure why your friend had a problem. I can see why people might find the middle section too deep, but the snowy beginning can’t be faulted. I hope you read a Pamuk soon.

  16. Karen says:

    Decided to look up your review of this one, I’ve not read it but I am struggling with his current book Museum of Innocence. I read through everyone’s comments and the comments posted by Annabel and Colleen with respect to Snow mirror my thoughts on Museum of Innocence – “Tedious” and I really wish I had been able to leave it in a hotel room when I was just a quarter of the way through! So far it is my only read of the New Year and I still have 100 pages to go, I really just want it to be over!

  17. Carolyn says:

    This had been on my nightstand all winter, and for us in Southern Ohio it was the book for this winter and we have had near record snow. I am glad you recomended this book. There is so much to be admired in the book, but I think it could have been improved with a bit more editing. Some material could have been left out. I am still sticking with it, on page 277, in between my other books.

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