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Snow by Orhan Pamuk

No, I haven’t expired. Thanks for asking, though. I have, in fact, been reading a fair bit and am about 20 book reviews behind. Sigh. Instead of starting at the beginning, I’m going to start with the one I just finished.

This is my first Orhan Pamuk book, so I’m coming at it from a different angle than people who’ve read his others, which I hear were quite different. People always seem to get a bit discombobulated when an author heads out into different terrain.

I certainly have a handful of mixed feelings on this one. It was deeply atmospheric and I’ll say that the device of a snowstorm cutting off a small town from the outside world, leaving its inhabitants to create/follow/succumb to their fates was quite successful. I found the main character got on my nerves sometimes, he was like a ghost of himself. Of course, some people are like that, but I really wanted him to wake up, snap out of it. Perhaps he reminded me of my chronically depressed friend a little too much. So I guess the character may have been too well done.

The frame of the book was a fifth business narrative that let us know right away that we’re imagining walking for a while in another man’s shoes. And that gives us a strange closeness combined with distance. Sometimes we stand at a washroom window looking out into the snow and the night, smoking a cigarette and we feel we are completely inside his skin. Then an incredibly important choice is made completely off-stage. We aren’t with him when he makes or follows through on it and even though we are fairly certain how it went, this absence puts a big distance between us. This is not necessarily a bad thing and definitely serves to remind us that no matter how well we feel we know someone, how close we feel, we are never in that other person’s skin. They are forever separate from us.

Living in a country that only last year passed a headscarf ban in the schools, I admit I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t more about this, but I can see how it just wouldn’t have fit in with the story. The main character really has no interest in the politics of the issue. He feels bad for the girls but he doesn’t have any political opinion on the subject, let alone any answers. So good on the author for not cramming more of the issue in there. There are political issues in the novel, but the novel and the characters always come first. A lot of authors trip up there, it’s pretty tempting. Pamuk didn’t.

Sometimes, when I finish a book I have a root about on the web to see what the reviews say. I thought this blog had some interesting reviews of the reviews. Pretty embarrassing that everyone kept mentioning Thousand and One Nights. God Westerners embarrass themselves a lot. And there, amongst the Thousand and One Nights reviews was my arch nemesis: Margaret Atwood. I have loathed this woman for years. Between that and statements like”[Pamuk is] narrating his country into being.” I wanted to punch her all over again. When I left Canada, I thought I would finally be rid of her. With my luck, she’ll win the Nobel Prize for Literature next. Al Purdy (Canadian poet) once wrote a little poem about her maybe 25, 30 years ago, before anybody outside of Ontario even heard of her. It’s called “Concerning Ms. Atwood.” Here’s a little excerpt:

There is Margaret Atwood
-she is accepting the Nobel Prize
and reporters are crowding around
with tears in their eyes
asking why she is so marvelous
she replies modestly
“I am Margaret Atwood”

There is Margaret Atwood…
she walks at the edge of the universe
where someone says “Hello
Pleased to meet you Ms. Atwood
My name is God” She smiles
and writes the name down promptly
in her little notebook to prevent
forgetfulness

That gives you a nice little glimpse of her before she became world famous. Don’t even try to imagine her now. I could write a book about why I don’t like her, why I find her unbelievably overrated and why her writing is rubbish. I’d probably give myself an aneurysm just thinking about it though, so I won’t.
Back to my subject. I will end with a link that I hope will remain active for a while. It’s “an article adapted from a speech given by Orhan Pamuk in Frankfurt.”

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