Travelling a lot with my work has its advantages – any flight more than an hour long is a good opportunity to get stuck into a book and the most recent flight – to Vienna – allowed me to finish off Orhan Pamuk‘s 2002 novel. And I needed to find the time, because although it interested me, it was never a page turner.
The book – Kar in Turkish – describes the trip (in 1999 or 1998) of the (fictional) poet Ka to Kars where he meets Kadife (do you see a pattern evolving?) and essentially wrestles with his confused and confusing outlook on life.
In the 70s Ka was a leftist revolutionary and so fled to Germany after Turkey’s 1980 military coup to live a lonely and frustrated life (visiting sex shops seems to be his main activity now that the poems have dried up). He gets a commission from a Turkish paper to visit Kars (in the extreme east of Anatolia and close to the Georgian and Armenian borders) to report on a suicide epidemic amongst girls and young women there. But his true motivation is to run off with Ipek, a woman he remembers from student days yet hardly knows, who now is living in Kars, divorced from one of Ka’s former leftist comrades (but now a moderate Islamist politician). This, he thinks, offers his last chance of happiness.
By the time he gets to Kars the town has been snowed in and then is subject to a “revolution” in which a band of actors, military and secret police attempt to destroy local Islamists while the town is cut off. In the middle of all this wanders a confused (and often drunk) Ka, unable to decide if he believes in God after all.
Needless to say it all ends badly for more or less everyone.
I suspect one of the functions of the book is to make “westerners” (whether from Istanbul or further beyond) feel confused by the world view of the Islamists and their mixture of rational anger at poverty and irrational theology. They have stepped into the void left by the collapse of the previous attempts to make Turkey a paradise on Earth by copying the Soviet Union (the most brutal advocate of the “revolution” turns out to be a former Communist, at last given the chance to indulge his love of violence). But the meandering in and out goes on at some length (436 pages in my edition) and so the book is more a duty than a pleasure.
The book is quite brave though – it comes close to acknowledging the Armenian genocide (the Armenians are ever present and ever absent in the novel) and quite explicitly accuses the Turkish state of torturing and murdering Kurds.
- Books liked by Orhan Pamuk (eneryvibes.wordpress.com)
- Setting the news agenda, with Orhan Pamuk (publicsphere.typepad.com)
- Snow, by Orhan Pamuk (eatingthepages.wordpress.com)
- The other who walks alongside us (richardgwyn.wordpress.com)
- Kar (redstateeclectic.typepad.com)
- Orhan Pamuk one of 5 finalists for Man Asian Prize (cbc.ca)
- A Blank Page Gives Me Freedom: Orhan Pamuk Interviewed (thequietus.com)
- Mo Yan, 莫言, and Orhan Pamuk – Nobel prize storytellers of rural and urban life (metinpluralistdotwordpressdotcom.wordpress.com)
- The universal dreams and ironies of Orhan Pamuk ” BLT (turkischland.wordpress.com)
- Museum of Innocence: banal and excruciatingly long tale (winewomenandword.wordpress.com)