"Snow" By Orhan Pamuk

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Knopf Ed.,2004

425 pages

 

Review by Victoria Fernández-Cuesta

Orhan Pamuk ha demostrado con Snow, su sexta novela, que es uno de los valores más sólidos de la literatura contemporánea. Gran conocedor de la cultura occidental, ha sido comparado con autores de la talla de Kafka o Dostoievsky.

Snow funciona como un todo armonioso donde se dan cita distintos niveles de lectura: política, artística, e intelectual. Simbolizadas por la nieve, tristeza y belleza, pasean juntas a lo largo de todas las páginas.

Ka visita Kars, situada al Noroeste de Turquía junto a Armenia, para escribir un reportaje sobre los preocupantes suicidios de jóvenes mujeres turcas y cubrir las inminentes elecciones políticas. El motivo real, sin embargo, es una mujer: Ipek. Se ha enterado en Estanbul de su reciente separación y alberga la esperanza de conquistar su amor. Con estos elementos y con las turbulencias políticas de Turquía -condenada eternamente a vivir a caballo entre Oriente y Occidente, Pamuk elabora esta elegante novela de acción, una exótica historia de amor e intriga. 

Es habitual en el relato que nuestro protagonista salga del hotel con un destino concreto, pero invierta horas en llegar tras los numerosos y peligrosos avatares con los que se encuentra. Al parecer la ciudad entera está al tanto de su llegada y todos quieren dar su opinión sobre los tristes suicidios de las jóvenes. Sienten gran curiosidad por el forastero que vivió su infancia en Estanbul. Demuestran asimismo una enorme desconfianza natural hacia Ka, al fin y al cabo un renegado que vive en Frankfurt, un ateo que se pasea envuelto en un carísimo abrigo que ningún habitante de la histórica ciudad , que vivio sus años de esplendor durante el Imperio Otomano y el Ruso, se puede permitir.

Ka conocerá militares, policías, líderes políticos, islamistas, se entrevistará con todos ellos y será testigo del asesinato del Ministro de Educación que ha tenido la osadía de prohibir a las jóvenes cubrirse con el velo islámico en la escuela. La dramática conversación que sostienen la víctima y el asesino, segundos antes de que éste dispare el gatillo, es digna de estudiarse con atención.

La absoluta falta de frivolidad a lo largo de todo el libro exige un esfuerzo mayúsculo a la mente occidental, habituados como estamos a llenarnos la cabeza de nimiedades que nos mantienen todo el día ocupados. Sin embargo, si mediante la concentración, conseguimos liberarnos de nuestra pesada e inútil carga, Pamuk nos muestra con extraordinaria sutileza las profundidades del alma humana, la vulnerabilidad de sentimientos tan intensos como el amor, la belleza, el misterio del sexo o la necesidad de la Trascendencia.

El problema de la existencia de Dios parece obsesionar a los países orientales, ha sido objeto de numerosas polémicas y ocupa un lugar prominente en esta novela. Transcribo a a continuación por su importancia la conversación al respecto que mantiene Ka con Necip, un estudiante islamista que adquirirá mayor relevancia en la última parte de la novela:

"If God doesn't exist"-dice Necip-"that means heaven does not exist either. And that means the world's poor, those millions who live in poverty and oppression, will never go to heaven. And if that is so, then how do you explain all the suffering of the poor? What are we here for, and why do we put up with so much unhappiness, if it's all for nothing?

Para Necip, la existencia de Dios justifica sus tristes vidas. Sin embargo, también podemos afirmar lo contrario por exactamente el mismo motivo. No puede existir un buen Dios en un mundo como el que hoy conocemos.

El autor refleja con lucidez la difícil encrucijada política de los países islámicos que aspiran al desarrollo económico y cultural sin perder su identidad, sin rendirse al mundo frívolo y materialista de las sociedades occidentales. Escrita con anterioridad a los atentados terroristas del 11 de Setiembre, Snow pone en evidencia la preocupante disparidad entre Oriente y Occidente. Con toda seguridad no habrá paz en el mundo mientras los desequilibrios económicos continuen creando una cantera de fanáticos islamistas dispuestos a morir.

No es casualidad que la obra esté concebida con la cabeza de un arquitecto y la minuciosidad de un pintor de miniaturas. Parmuk estudió arquitectura en Estanbul y era pintor con anterioridad a su oficio de escritor. En el micromundo de su novela cada palabra cumple una función premeditada. Muchas situaciones serán rememoradas y explicadas posteriormente desde el punto de vista del narrador, en una lección de armonía que encaja con la definición de Aristóteles

La extraordinaria similitud entre los nombres de Ka y Kars ( que en turco significa nieve) sugiere la disolución del protagonista en la ciudad y viceversa, como si ambas entidades se necesitasen la una a la otra para subsistir. La ciudad, en tanto que sólo vive porque el poeta la describe. El poeta, que sólo en Kars despierta a la vida y a las emociones y que vuelve a escribir poemas como si la ciudad se los susurrase.

Los diálogos de Pamuk son tan reveladores como sus silencios:

"Why is everyone in this city commiting suicide? asked Ka.

"It's not everyone who's commiting suicide, it's just girls and women", said Ipek. "The men give themselves to religion, and the women kill themselves."

"Why?"

Ipek no contesta.

La traducción del turco al inglés de Maureen Freely es excelente. En ningún momento echas en falta la versión original; una prosa sutil, elegante y un ritmo lento pero muy intenso.

La tremenda fuerza de Snow conlleva a ratos una pesada carga para el lector. Sin embargo la literatura contemporánea pocas veces ha excarbado en el alma humana con tanta hondura y precisión. El trabajo de un poeta.

 

Review by Victoria Fernández-Cuesta

English Translation by Consuelo Arias

 

Snow, Orhan Pamuk's sixth novel, has proven the writer to be one of the most unique voices of contemporary literature, compared to figures such as Kafka and Dostoyevsky. Snow is a multi-layered construction in which the political, the aesthetic and the intellectual fuse and enrich each other. Snow is the central motif encompassing these various aspects of experience.

Ka, the poet protagonist travels to Kars, a city in northwestern Turkey, to write an article about the alarming suicides of young Turkish women and to cover the imminent elections. But the real reason for his visit is a woman, Ipek. Ka has learned of her recent divorce from her husband and hopes to win her love. These personal and collective dramas form the narrative of this elegant action novel, a thrilling story of love and intrigue set in Turkey, whose political turbulence stems from its eternal conflict of existing on the border between East and West.

In the novel, Ka repeatedly leaves his hotel with a specific destination only to be met with numerous dangerous vicissitudes which prolong his search. It seems that the entire city is aware of his presence and everyone wants to opine about the tragic suicides.

Kars inhabitants are extremely curious about the "foreigner" poet who was raised in Istanbul. They also express enormous mistrust of Ka, who is, after all, an expatriate living in Frankfurt, an atheist who parades around clad in a very expensive coat which no citizen of the historic city of Kars, which once had its age of splendor during the Ottoman and Russian empires, could afford.

In his wanderings, Ka encounters military men, political leaders and Islamists whom he interviews. He also witnesses the assassination of the Minister of Education, who once had the audacity to forbid female students to wear the veil in school. The dramatic conversation between the victim and his assassin, occurring seconds before the latter pulls the trigger, merits a particularly careful reading. The complete lack of superficiality or frivolity demands an enormous effort from those of us seeped in the consumerist mentality, accustomed as we are to the assault of trivialities, which seems to maintain us permanently busy. However, if we concentrate enough, we might liberate ourselves from this useless burden. With extraordinary subtlety, Pamuk portrays the depth of the human soul, the vulnerability of experiences as intense as love, beauty, the mystery of sex and the need for transcendence.

The existence of God has been the subject of various debates and occupies a prominent place in the narrative. The following is a fragment of a conversation between Ka and Necip, an Islamist student:

"If God doesn't exist that means heaven does not exist either. And that means the world's poor, those million who live in poverty and oppression, will never go to heaven. And if that is so, then how do you explain all the suffering of the poor? What are we here for, and why do we put up with so much unhappiness, if it's all for nothing?"

For Necip, the existence of God justifies the people's suffering. Yet we may also conclude the opposite for exactly the same reason. A just God cannot exist in a world such as the one we live in.

Pamuk represents with great lucidity the difficult conflict faced by Muslim countries aspiring to economic and cultural development without the loss of cultural identity, without surrendering to the frivolity and materialism of Western societies. Though Snow was written before September 11th, it nonetheless focuses on the terrible disparity between East and West. There will certainly be no peace in the world while such socio-economic inequities continue to create Islamist fanatics ready to die when called upon.

It is no coincidence that the novel seems to have been conceived in the mind of an architect and with the attention to detail of the miniaturist painter. Pamuk studied architecture and was an artist before becoming a writer. In the microcosm of his novel, each word fulfills an overdetermined and carefully wrought function. Many situations are recalled and explained later in the tale from the narrator's point of view, in a model of Aristotelian harmony.

The intriguing echo of the name "Ka" and "Kars" (which means "snow" in Turkish) suggests a dissolving of the protagonist into the city, and vice versa, as if each entity required the other to exist. The city lives only by the very fact of the poet's description. The poet, who awakens to life and to emotions only in Kars, begins to write poetry as if the city murmured it to him

Pamuk's dialogues are as revealing as the silences:

"Why is everyone in this city committing suicide? Asked Ka

"It is not everyone who's committing suicide, it's just girls and women, said Ipek. "The men give themselves to religion, and the women kill themselves."     

"Why?'

Ipek does not answer.

 

Maureen Freely's translation from the Turkish is excellent. The reader never misses the original, for the prose is subtle, elegant and the rhythm slow but intense. The enormous power of Snow is at times a tremendous burden for the reader, yet contemporary literature rarely delves into the human soul with such depth and precision. This is the work of a true poet. 

 

Steve CannonTribes