I really enjoy novels that deal with the conflict between east and west. One of my favorite contemporary novelists is Salman Rushdie, whose novels all deal with this conflict in one way or another. Up to this point, the majority of my experience with this conflict has been from India/Pakistan/Afghanistan and the West. So when my boss let me borrow this book I was definitely intrigued.
The book is set in Northeast Turkey in essentially a border town. This town has been part of Armenia, Russia and Turkey. What for me was one of the most interesting things about this novel is the conflict with secular Turkey and those wanting a religious Turkey. It was another layer to the East/West concept that isn’t touched to the same level of detail as Rushdie’s novels.
The novel is narrated by the eponymous novelist friend of the poet Ka. Orhan (the narrator) is visiting both Kars and Frankfurt trying to make sense of Ka’s murder in Germany and find a lost collection of poetry written while Ka was in Kars. In the early parts of the novel however, the narrator is only identified as a friend of Ka’s. The story is told from Ka’s point of view with the narrator occasionally foreshadowing events before Ka would know them. It isn’t until the later chapters of the book that the narrator really steps out as his own character in the book.
I really enjoyed this book. While none of the poems actually are actually in the book, the inspiration for Ka’s poems is evident. Pamuk’s description of Kars and the effect of the snow is beautiful (despite describing poverty and depression often). I also think that looking at Turkey and its culture and society is a good place for westerners to begin to understand the conflict between Islam and the west.
On another note, Orhan Pamuk is often mentioned as a leading candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature in the near future. British oddsmakers Ladbrokes has Pamuk as its favorite for the prize this year. It was also speculated that he was under serious consideration for the Prize in 2005 (eventually awarded to British playwright Harold Pinter).