Hazel McHaffie

Deadly Decisions

Turkish delight? Not so much.

Way back in 2017 I read my first novel by much-garlanded Turkish author, Orhan Pamuk, My Name is Red. It was shortly after I’d visited Turkey myself, and I reviewed it on this blog.
Verdict? Brilliant and well worth the time spent.
I’ve just read a second one of his: Snow, which I bought on the strength of the first experience.
Verdict? Much harder work and not so gripping.
However, I’m game for a challenge, so I persevered through this labyrinthine story, all 436 pages of tiny font, densely packed, precise, slow moving prose.

Journalist and poet, Ka, has travelled to a mountainous border city called Kars – one of the poorest and most overlooked corners of Turkey – ostensibly to investigate an epidemic of suicides amongst young women. He is both shocked and frightened by the manner of deaths: abruptly, without ritual or warning, in the midst of their everyday routines, one minute jostling normally with siblings or playing with babies, the next lying dead from shotguns or pills or nooses. The speed and efficiency of the deaths convinces him that they had been carrying suicidal thoughts around with them for some time.  But why?

Local reaction is powerful. Posters proclaim: Human beings are God’s masterpieces and suicide is blasphemy. Pamphlets are circulated. Such is the sensitivity around this issue that Ka himself is offered police protection. As he unravels attitudes and mores underpinning both religion and atheism, Ka also writes poems that come to him in blinding flashes – a significant development after a very fallow period in his creative energies.

He’s also looking for answers to his own existential questions. He’s searching for a God who doesn’t ask me to take off my shoes in His presence, and who doesn’t make me fall to my knees to kiss people’s hands. I want a God who understands my need for solitude. But he knows this is dangerous territory and is highly sensitive to the threat on all sides.

The story wanders into some pretty serious territory: the existence of God, why are we here, the problem of suffering, life after death, the importance of headscarves, religious fanaticism, media ethics … But the author, Pamuk himself, describes the heart of the story thus:
How much can we ever know about the love and pain in another’s heart? How much can we hope to understand those who have suffered deeper anguish, greater deprivation and more crushing disappointments than we ourselves have known? Even if the world’s rich and powerful should ever try to put themselves in the shoes of the rest, how much would they really understand the wretched millions suffering around them?

Maybe, after all, the right book to read in this second week of the COP26 summit in Glasgow, where we see such grave inequalities exposed between ‘the rich and powerful’ and ‘the wretched millions’.

It’s a fact universally acknowledge that I rarely have more than one book on the go at once. Simple mind! So, it’s probably a measure of the density of this particular novel that I dipped into two others in the time it took to complete it. My companion on a long train journey – Deadly Decisions by Kathy Reichsrequired no effort or analysis, and was pure mindless distraction during a time of significant mental and emotional turmoil. A more serious alternative to Snow was Lies Lies Lies! by Michael Green, which looks at claims against Christianity. It provided a fascinating contrast with the religious bigotry and fanaticism within the Muslim world in Turkey depicted in Pamuk’s novel.

 

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments