Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I believe in snow

What makes writers from countries that are/were on the cusp of revolution more able to create works infinitely richer than those from the privileged West? Orhan Pamuk’s Snow is a perfect example of a political novel that is half analytical and half farcical. It asks all the unanswerable questions: How does a country and people move forward when torn between Islam and Kemalism? How do people find unity when pushed and pulled in all different directions? How does one stay true to him/herself? How do we figure out if our motives are truly our own, that our hearts are guiding us where we need to go?

I have a love-hate relationship with books in translation. On the one hand, I find that books such as Pamuk’s have so much more to “say” than most books I’ve read in my numerous English literature courses. On the other hand, I cannot help but sense that I will never truly understand what the writer is getting at, that his voice will never speak to me from my own depths, that his points of reference will forever be alien from my own experiences. Nevertheless, the struggles in Pamuk’s work seem more pressing, the outcomes never wholly satisfactory, the issues still unresolved. Pamuk’s sentiments are a mix of patriotism and disillusionment. He is someone who loves his native Turkey, but who can simultaneously see the “ugliness” of Turkey’s history – how the clash of cultures and regimes have historically led to turmoil, fractiousness, displacement, and identity crises. Brave enough to criticize the state for the Armenian genocide, Pamuk was condemned by the state, but pressures from the West led his charges to be dropped. Pamuk is the sort of writer unique to this day: He shows that patriotism and disillusionment are not necessarily mutually-exclusive. He can love a country that has attempted to curb his creativity and stifle his opinions.

Mark Doty, one of a myriad of translators of Rilke (one of my absolute favourites!), states in his introduction to Duino Elegies that “many competing versions made the poem seem less a monumental, unapproachable thing than something made entirely of language, subject to reinvention and the ongoing work of interpretation.” And so I’ve approached novels in translation in a similar manner, as pure works of language from which I may reinvent a personal meaning. Yes, Pamuk’s Snow is a look at real and dark places, times, and issues, but I’ve taken from the work an exploration of my own belief system, my own questioning of how to live by my beliefs, with dignity and without compromise. I may not be a Muslim woman having to choose between honouring my religion and getting an education, where the very act of deciding to wear a head-scarf or bare one’s head can be read as both honour and rebellion; however, I can look within myself and see how small, seemingly insignificant acts are signs of my own spirituality. I may not belief in God in the conventional sense, but I believe in goodness, in the harmony of nature.  The protagonist in Snow is the poet Ka, who, as he struggles with his own belief system, comes to see that perhaps it’s enough to believe in snow. (That’s my own interpretation of what he realizes.) I, too, believe in snow, in the greater power that has created snow, in the way snow quiets my spirit and enlivens my soul at the same time. In the midst of falling snow, I see beauty and peace. Isn’t that enough?

1 comment:

  1. You should get back into analyzing literature! Find some way to do it professionally!