Jun 3, 2007

Orhan, Kar is Fantastic...

This book really kept me engrossed for quite some time..I wanted to read it again before writing a review..But, didnt get enough time or patience to do that... 'Snow' ( Turkish - 'Kar' ,which explains the title of this post) by Orhan Pamuk is a classic.. It deals with different faces of conflict between Islam ( both political and Radical ) and Westernism.. Philosophic at times, yet smooth .. a bit dry in the middle, yet interesting enough to keep us hooked.... Its also a romantic tragedy..It has its own lighter moments, though very few and far in between..

The story is set in the town of 'Kars' in North-Eastern Turkey.. Now, why Turkey becomes the center of such a islamic-western conflict ? Lets go back into a bit of History..

A brief History

Turkey was the land of 'Caliphate' or in other worlds, Turkish ( Ottoman ) Sultans were considered to be the religious head of Muslims all over the world..India's 'Khilafat' movement traces its roots from the deposing of Turkish Sultan by the British after World War 1. At the height of its power, Ottoman empire extended from the borders of Vienna in the west to the Persia or Iran in the east..Turkish society was a predominantly Islamic one, though there were attempts during the Ottoman period to westernize it.. After the collapse of Ottoman empire at the end of first world war, Turkey slipped into a brief period of civil war... An army officer - Mustafa Kemal - united Turkey and established a millitary rule there.. He's known as the founding father of Modern Turkey -- something akin to Mahatma Gandhi here.. More popularly or reverently known as Mustafa Kemal Ataturk ..

Ataturk carried out perhaps the most difficult cultural transition ever attempted in modern world history... Transforming a traditionally Muslim society into a secular and westernized one. He established western system of education, banned religious symbols ( veils, crosses , beard,turban etc..etc ) -- Think of doing that in India ??? -- .. It is an example were a military rule setup helped achieve something which would have been unthinkable in a democracy.. ( Ofcourse, an army rule has its own drawbacks and many of those instances are seen in the book itself ) ... Ataturk succeeded in doing that and Turkey is perhaps one role model for Islamic states.. But as it is, the reverberation of the changes in the post-cold war period are being increasingly felt there. Eastern Turkey is a confluence of lots of races - Armens, Azeris,Tatars, Turks, Kurds... the list goes on..

The plot

An exiled poet Kerim Alaku_howlu ( in Turkish ) , known as Ka' returns to Turkey after spending some years in Germany..Its to investigate the phenomenon of suicides happening in Kars, a small town in Anatolia , in the north-eastern border of Turkey..He also wants to re-connect with his former romantic interest , Ipek.. In the course of investigation he meets lots of interesting characters.. Ipek's divorced husband and his former friend Muhtar, a sufi-sheik , a student from one religious school, Ipek's sister Kadife, an actor Sunay Zaim who dreams of becoming the modern Ataturk, and most importantly a charismatic Islamic terrorist named 'Blue', who attracts almost everyone he meets towards him..

The elements

Ka is a human..Unlike the demi-god heroes portrayed in typical political novels, this character is completely human..He has his own vices..Does virtually anything to get Ipek to his bed, ..and as a rather too-ordinary human, breaks down and fumbles when Ipek's past is told to him by another person.. Due to circumstances, or rather his personal motives he ends up being sort of a double agent between millitary and Islamists.. Many people who have read may deny this, but I essentially felt that finally his conduct was rather unconsciously or unintentionally transformed into a double-agent.. But, it is this human touch of vices and mistakes that makes this novel very much attractive..

Even though the novel starts as a probe into the mass suicides by women, it certainly turns into more complex social and societal issues.. The identity of religion, limits
of secularism, the military doctrine suppressing religion , the emerging Islamic voice there.
The characters struggle to assert the supremacy of the belief that they are part of by all
kinds of propaganda..

I'm not going into further details of the story as that would be a spoiler to a prospective reader.. :) . .If any of you like reading social issues with a touch of history and politics, this book is for you.. Dont miss it :)



Serendipity said...

Nice review. :)

Another historical novel :) U seem to prefer them over others:)

Anonymous said...

Dude.. don't give too much out in a review.. lesser mortals like me haven't started on the book yet.

Anonymous said...

wow! great review .. sure gonna catch up with this one

Ajith Prasad Balakrishnan said...

@serendipity -- Thank you, Yeah, I usually read a lot of history.. Even from the wikipedia :)

@sanjiv -- Nothing much man..The history part is not detailed much in the book..Thats why I described it a bit..About the remaining, that was the bare minimum that I could post ..

@justso -- Thanks :) You'll enjoy it :)

Flyaway Mind said...

i am not reading this post .. bcos the book is still awaiting me in my bookshelf since the last 2 months:) i'm too lazy these days...

Deepak said...

Mustafa Kamaal is not the person you mentioned.
He is the character played by Bheeman Raghu in the movie "Narimaan".. :P Ayye!

Ajith Prasad Balakrishnan said...

@flyaway mind -- :) C'mon..dont leave such a book for so long..

@deepak -- :D at first I didnt understand ur comment.. but now I remember that character in Nariman :D good catch.

Anonymous said...

ive read upto "the plot" not continuing as you have not given any spoiler warning :) I will come back and read the rest after completing the book.

I must say that its a wonderful writeup.

Ajith Prasad Balakrishnan said...

@freebird -- thank you.. :)

Bassam Sebti said...

Hi there,

I have just discovered your blog as I was reading some articles about "Snow". I finished reading it last night and couldn't but think about the characters and the events which I felt I lived in.

I share your thoughts about the book. It is awesome!

ratheesh said...

request for reserving the book,to take it up once bkb finishes.

Visakh said...

usually i am a quick reader..i read around 100 pages in 1 to 1 1/2 hours..but with Snow, it was entirely different..its the best and the most thoughful one i have ever read(or maybe i ll say MT's Randamoozham also had the same effect)....or i think MT and Orhan are similar in their story telling...they bring out the surroundings in which they lived into their novels in its pure form..