November Reading Recap

It may be in the mid-50s and sunny here in mid-Missouri, but the Calendar says that today is December 1. Here is a review of the reading I did in November before I jump back into the craziness that is the end of the academic term.

  1. Bend Sinister, Vladimir Nabokov – One of Nabokov’s early works, this novel follows the professor Adam Krug, an intellectual celebrity from a nation that espouses an ideology of militant mediocrity, as the leader of the country tries to seduce him into endorsing the state philosophy. There were some bitter and funny passages in Bend Sinister, but Nabokov writes like a pompous a…the book operates on a number of different levels that I sometimes found difficult to follow. This may have been that I was reading the novel as a night-cap during a week of frantic writing and I may need to read it again when I am less distracted.
  2. Snow, Orhan Pamuk – The book that took me most of a month to read because of the world beyond the book. The most common review of Pamuk’s work I have seen is that he is adept at spinning out hundreds of pages without character or plot development. I cannot totally disagree. Snow is the report of the novelist Orhan’s investigation into the death of his friend Ka, a Turkish poet who lives in exile in Germany. The bulk of the novel is a recounting of the events that took place in the frontier town of Kars in Eastern Anatolia during a three day stretch when a snowstorm cut the town off from the rest of Turkey and the local military officers staged a coup against the rising power of political Islam. Ostensibly, Ka had gone to Kars to write an article about the “headscarf girls,” young women who were committing suicide because the schools were forcing them to remove their scarves. But, as the reader quickly discovers, the article is an excuse to visit Kars–Ka has actually gone there hoping to take up with one of his former schoolmates, and the wife (now separated) of another schoolmate and current local politician with one of the Islamist parties in Kars. In Kars, Ka finds himself once more inspired to write poetry.

    This is the short and straightforward version of the plot. Usually I am a reader who needs to like one or more of the characters in a book to really find myself drawn in, but that was not the case with Snow. I didn’t really like any of the characters, but Pamuk’s prose invoked a dream-like state when I was reading it. I sympathized with individual passages and felt a connection with individual episodes, but, more than anything I connected with the setting. As in all of Pamuk’s work I have yet read, the Turkish identity crisis–between the Turkish communities in Germany, urbane Istanbul, and poor, hodge-podge remote areas of Anatolia–features prominently in Snow. I still cannot put my finger on exactly why, but I really enjoyed this novel, and it was a perfect prelude to the next book.

  3. Turkey since 1989: Angry Nation, Kerem Öktem – Reviewed here, Öktem argues that Turkey is a nation built upon a series of (often totalitarian) paradoxes, deep state actors, and ethnic tensions. He suggests that the people have largely been left out of the equation in Turkey, being manipulated by the various political actors rather than being served by the government, even when the elected officials have had the upper hand.

Next up, I am about a quarter of the way through Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim and just received a copy of Albert Camus’ The Stranger.

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