Arts & Life

A Poet Returns to Turkey in 'Snow'

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Snow a novel by the Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, explores the convoluted world of Turkish Muslims torn between the West and their beliefs. It focuses on a young poet returning to his homeland after years in Europe.


Western and Mideastern values collide in a book commentator Andrei Codrescu picked up recently. It's by Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk and it's called Snow.

ANDREI CODRESCU: In Snow, a poet returns to his native Turkey after years of exile in Germany. In the '70s, he had been a leftist student who managed to escape before being arrested. In his return nearly two decades later, he finds out that the new radicals of young Islamists are burning with revolutionary passion just as he did.

It's a different kind of passion, though. The Marxist faith of the young poet was not that far removed from the secular rule instituted in Turkey by the army. Both Marxism and the Westernizing imposed by the military are connected to the European enlightenment.

The new radicals are enthralled by God, by Islam and by tradition. The poet does not condescend to the new radicals. On the contrary, he is attracted to their youth and the desire for purity and sacrifice. They remind him of his own, but the devil is in the details.

A number of young women in the town of Cars(ph) have committed suicide because they weren't too ostensibly allowed to attend school wearing the traditional headscarf. The symbol of the young Islamists have deemed worth dying for turns out to be a cover for other ills.

Mistreatment at the hands of fathers and husbands, poverty, unemployment. The media and the police come in for close examination too. The media makes the suicides a cause celebre, prompting other unhappy young women to consider suicide. Police repression and army rule in Turkey, intended for decades to stem the spread of radical Islam, come in for their share of blame.

But interestingly enough, the two constant elements that link everyone in the small town are sexual repression and television. The young people are trying to resist what is an overwhelming wave of sexual images produced by the televisions they never stop watching and by the cult of movie stars whose every gesture is familiar to them.

One imagines that left to their own devices, these young people would eventually find the balance between their beliefs and the modern world. But that is exactly what no one is willing to do. The state forbids the symbols of Islam, television mocks them, the army invalidates their elected officials and shoots some of the students in cold blood.

In Pamuk's world, modern Turkey is a hopeless mess drifting inevitably toward an Islamic state, brought about by a comedy of tragic errors. The poet tries to stay out of the mess in the name of an abstract ideal he calls poetry, but he's a modern, Western-educated poet who is far from understanding the sentimental and cliché-filled poetry of tradition.

The young are driven by sentiment, while cynical and power-hungry interests use them for cannon fodder.

NORRIS: Andrei Codrescu is a professor of English at Louisiana State University.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from