Friday, January 28, 2011

Reading Travels: with Ka in Kars

The recent uprising in Tunisia and the revolt that is now taking place in Egypt took me back to a reading travel I recently completed - the story of Ka and his travel to Kars told by Orhan Pamuk in Snow.

In Snow, Pamuk swifts between an insightful look into the political issues faced by Turkey and the language of a snow poem. And politics in Kars, a north-eastern town in Turkey that was once a powerful metropolis, is no different than politics in Tunisia or Egypt. It is the story of the fickle balance between Islamist politics and secular autocracy supported by armed forces in a landscape of poverty and unemployment that plagues the city.

SnowA former neo-Marxist, Ka had to immigrate to Germany in his youth in order to escape political prison in Turkey. The son of a well to do middle class attorney, Ka is living now a solitary life in Frankfurt with the means provided by the government aid for refugees. He supplements his aid with meager revenue trickling from publishing poems and readings at Turkish language events.

When able to return to Turkey, he travels to Istanbul to visit his family – his sister and his father. Once in Istanbul he is asked by an old friend, who works as a journalist now, to report on a mysterious “epidemic” of suicides among young girls and women and the oncoming mayoral elections. The mayoral elections in this city forgotten by the world were of interest to the central press because the former mayor was killed before the end of his term. He accepts the task mostly because of a personal reason – he had decided that it is time to get married and he is thinking about a former college classmate reputed for her beauty who is now divorced: Ipek. And what makes the story even more interesting is the fact that Ipek’s former husband Muhtar Bey is the mayoral candidate of the local Islamist party and he is winning in the polls.

After arriving Kars, Ka is stranded in the town by snow blocked roads. And as he is unable to live the town he is caught in the midst of a bloody revolt that starts on the stage with the support of a local army regiment. And as he falls in love in the midst of a revolution, ideological disputes and suicide girls, his life would change beyond any point of return.

The story is told in the third person and it gives the reader an eerie feeling of omniscience as its outcome is insinuated from the first pages and the author inserts paragraphs that hint to Ka’s faith after he leaves Kars across the story. The plot “spoilers” underline the concept of faith as often understood by middle-eastern cultures, Ka’s destiny was already determined , even before he boarded the bus to Kars. In opposition to western cultures, Kamight have realized that he was traveling straight into a blizzard; he might have seen at the start that he was setting out on a journey that would change his life forever and chosen to turn back.” But he would not and he could not realize that.

On a personal note: the story of the “veiled girls” is an insightful account into the social status of women in Asia Minor that mirrors the story of the girls from Azar Nafisi ’s Reading Lolita in Tehran. If in Reading Lolita…young women were forced to cover their heads in order to be able to attend post-secondary school, in Snow they were forced to bare their heads in order to enter the university. What is common for both stories – the decision did not belong to those young women. The decision was already made and enforced by men…

1 comment:

Kiersty said...

Ana, the last paragraph strikes clear for me - I have written extensively on the subject in essays. I truly believe that the internet is the one hope we have of extending some idea of equality and fairness - humanness - to the female population in countries where they are currently viewed as second class citizens. That is not to take away from the fact that inherent sexism is still prevelant in the western world... but at least we can fight them with our minds and speech.
That sounds like a fascinating book and the situation in Egypt has made us all reasess the bravery that is required to bring about this kind of change. It is a rare and special thing when a leader of a nation is brought to answer by its people. And it is terrifying as much as it is exhilerating.
Your blog always makes me witter on, eh? Thank you.