Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Leaving Turkey....

Well, the snows have melted, the roads are open and I find myself on the first train heading out of the remote city of Kars after three days' worth of events (which took me a month to read!).

This is an important point actually - the narrative of this book - for the most part - takes place over only three days (you can find a more detailed account of the plot itself in previous posts), yet while this might seem to imply this is a simple book it is, in fact, extremely complex with a multilayered plot which intertwines the wider concerns of religion and politics with the more individual issues of love, selfishness and difficulty of retaining moral integrity whilst pursuing personal happiness.

All of these themes are encapsulated in the central character - the poet Ka - and in his poems which he attempts to relate to the simple, yet complex, nature of a snowflake (reflecting the simple, yet complex, nature of the novel itself).

Orhan Panuk, the author of Snow, is an assured writer who has written a fascinating novel. He even appears as character himself, and whilst he denigrates his own art as a novelist as inferior to that of a poet, he achieves moments of poetry within his own narrative - especially in the hauntingly melancholic descriptions of the snowbound city of Kars itself.

Furthermore, Panuk is acutely aware of the fact that the East/West divisions of religion / politics which he describes also apply to literature. I shall quote a passage from Snow which is a dialogue between Panuk and a disillusioned Islamist student from Kars... this is about the novel (Snow) which Panuk is still in the process of writing at this point. The passage struck me as directly relevant to my trip around the world generally:- in selecting representative books for each country, I am only scratching the surface of each nation's culture, and caution should be taken in ever assuming one can truly learn about a culture from a single book - indeed no matter how many books about a nation one reads, one will always be reading and intepreting those works through one's own cultural background and assumptions. Anyway, Panuk illustrates this better than I can hope to, here is the passage in question:

Fazil (the former Islamic student): "If you write a book set in Kars and put me in it, I'd like to tell your readers not to believe anything you say about me, anything you say about any of us. No-one could understand us from so far anyway".

"But no-one believes everything they read in a novel," I said.

"Oh, yes, they do believe it," he cried. "If only to see themselves as wise and superior and humanistic, they need to think of us as sweet and funny, and convince themselves that they sympathise with the way we are and even love us. But if you would put in what I've just said, at least your readers will keep a little room for doubt in their minds."

A telling exchange and one which applies to anybody reading a book about others from outside of their own sphere of knowledge. This passage really struck me and I shall keep its message in mind for the duration of my journey around the world....

And so, after the long train journey from Kars, I shall disembark at Istanbul's main station, make my way hurriedly to the impressive Atatürk International Airport, and board an Bulgarian Air flight to Sofia, Bulgaria, for the next leg of my journey..."Natural Novel" by Georgi Gospodinov.

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