Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, 16.5 (Orhan Pamuk)

Pamuk, Orhan

Sent to me by the publisher.

This was the book we chose to encourage everyone in Buffalo to read when Orhan Pamuk came to Buffalo. If there had been money to do a big ad campaign, I had the clever idea to build it around the phrase "Snow in Buffalo." I picture billboards lining the highway, television ads, fake newscasts, you name it. Such is not the fate of non-profit ad campaigns.

This comes in at a close second to The Black Book as my favorite of Pamuk's novels. I tend to like stories that have political settings, especially in a place as foreign to me as eastern Turkey.

One of the pleasures of reading that I have re-discovered post-graduate school is the escapist element. While I do read non-fiction and so forth, I prefer fiction, especially fiction that forces me to imagine a place with which I am totally unfamiliar. I think this is what reading felt like as a kid. I think I lost that feeling as a graduate student, spending as much time as I did analyzing form, structures, meaning, and so on. The escape was beside the point and bordered on some kind of ethical lapse, like passive consumption.

I am lapsed in many areas of my life. I guess am okay with that.

from Snow

As soon as the bus set off, our traveler glued his eyes to the window next to him; perhaps hoping to see something new, he peered into the wretched little shops and bakeries and broken-down coffeehouses that lined the streets of Erzurum's outlying suburbs, and as he did it began to snow. It was heavier and thicker than the snow he'd seen between Istanbul and Erzurum. If he hadn't been so tired, if he'd paid a bit more attention to the snowflakes swirling out of the sky like feathers, he might have realized that he was traveling straight into a blizzard; he might have seen at the start that he was setting out on a journey that would change his life forever and chosen to turn back.

But the thought didn't even cross his mind. As evening fell, he lost himself in the light still lingering in the sky above; in the snowflakes whirling ever more wildly in the wind he saw nothing of the impending blizzard but rather a promise, a sign pointing the way back to the happiness and purity he had known, once, as a child. Our traveler had spent his years of happiness and childhood in Istanbul; he'd returned a week ago, for the first time in twelve years, to attend his mother's funeral, and having stayed there four days he decided to take this trip to Kars. Years later, he would still recall the extraordinary beauty of the snow that night; the happiness it brought him was far greater than any he'd known in Istanbul. He was a poet and, as he himself had written—in an early poem still largely unknown to Turkish readers—it snows only once in our dreams.

As he watched the snow fall outside his window, as slowly and silently as the snow in a dream, the traveler fell into a long-desired, long-awaited reverie; cleansed by memories of innocence and childhood, he succumbed to optimism and dared to believe himself at home in this world. Soon afterward, he felt something else that he had not known for quite a long time and fell asleep in his seat.

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