Headscarf Girls

He walked through to a hall with pictures of roosters on the walls; in the centre of the hall was a small cock fighting ring. At this moment Ka realised he was in love with ─░pek. And, sensing that this love would determine the rest of his life, he was filled with dread.

Yesterday, I finished Snow, a novel by Turkish winner of big fancy prizes, Orhan Pamuk. I’ll keep post this more or less spoiler-free, I promise. Pamuk places himself (or a ghost of himself) as the narrator of the book, describing the experiences of a poet friend named Ka in the small Turkish town of Kars. (Incidentally, “kar” is Turkish for snow. You can safely assume there is some snow in the book.) In the novel, Kars has become a focal point for tension between the forces of Turkish secularism and political Islam; after the secularist government banned Islamic headscarves in state schools and universities, a string of Islamic activists known as the headscarf girls killed themselves. When the town is closed off from the outside world by (you guessed it) snow, it becomes a crucible for testing this tension. Snow plays out the struggle between politically expressed religion and modernising secularism in events covering a period of about three days. Plus, Pamuk manages to get through a whole love story in the same time-frame. Positively Shakespearean compression.

The very handsome Turkish first edition.

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