Thursday, May 09, 2013

Snow from Greenland to the Future

Smilla's Sense of SnowSmilla's Sense of Snow
by Peter Høeg

“Do you know what the mathematical expression is for longing? ... The negative numbers. The formalization of the feeling that you are missing something.”  ― Peter Høeg, Smilla's Sense of Snow

Danish novelist Heg's first English-language publication moves from an intimate mystery to an ever-widening circle of corruption and danger--and to even colder climes. Surly Inuit/Greenlander Smilla Jaspersen is a world-class expert on ice and snow who, since emigrating to Denmark, has gone on nine scientific expeditions to her homeland and published half a dozen highly regarded papers in scholarly journals--but she still can't hold a steady job. Isaiah Christensen, her six-year-old downstairs neighbor with a long-standing fear of heights, plunges from the roof of the White Palace, his apartment building. While the boy's body is still warm, the police pronounce his death an accident. But Smilla knows her young neighbor didn't fall from the roof on his own. With the help of another neighbor, dyslexic mechanic Peter Fjl, Smilla follows a trail from the White Palace through the Cryolite records of a fateful (and fatal) 1966 expedition, and ends up aboard the Kronos, a smuggling ship stuffed with drugs and desperate characters and bound for Greenland's Barren Glacier and a truly unimaginable cargo.

by Orhan Pamuk

“How much can we ever know about the love and pain in another 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?”  ― Orhan Pamuk, Snow

Orhan Pamuk' s novel is set in the winter of 1992 in the city of Kars in the north-eastern part of Turkey. The story is narrated by Pamuk himself as he tells of the poet journalist Kerim Alakusoglu, known as Ka is a poet, who returns to Turkey after 12 years of political exile in Germany. He has several motives, first, as a journalist, to investigate the events surrounding a group of young women who are committing suicide rather than give up their headscarves, but also in the hope of meeting a woman he used to know. Heavy snow cuts off the town for about three days during which time Ka is in conversation with a former communist, a secularist, a fascist nationalist, a possible Islamic extremist, Islamic moderates, young Kurds, the military, the Secret Service, the police and in particular, an actor-revolutionary. In the midst of this, love and passion are to be found. This is a very contemporary story of the clash between devout Islamists and the secular state that controls Turkey. Isolating the action in the snowbound town of Kars we learn of the tensions through Ka's interviews with various citizens. Pamuk's narrative style presents a pastiche of events that blend together to form the story with both love and politics coming to the fore. The many surprises and shocks of the story kept me interested and I found new fascination for the contemporary history of Turkey. The translation by Maureen Freely, who has translated several of Pamuk's novels, is excellent.

Snow CountrySnow Country
by Yasunari Kawabata

“The road was frozen. The village lay quiet under the cold sky. Komako hitched up the skirt of her kimono and tucked it into her obi. The moon shone like a blade frozen in blue ice.”  ― Yasunari Kawabata, Snow Country

Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata’s Snow Country is widely considered to be the writer’s masterpiece: a powerful tale of wasted love set amid the desolate beauty of western Japan. The novel began as a single short story published in a literary journal in January 1935. Kawabata continued writing about the characters afterward, with parts of the novel ultimately appearing in five different journals before he published the the book in whole. He continued working on the novel over a period of years. Finally, in 1948, the novel reached its final form as "Snow country", a literal translation of the Japanese title "Yukiguni". The name comes from the place where the story takes place, where Shimamura arrives in a train coming through a long tunnel under the border mountains between Gunma and Niigata Prefectures. Sitting at the foot of mountains, on the north side, this region receives a huge amount of snow in winter because of the northern winds coming across the Sea of Japan. The winds accumulate moisture over the sea and deposit it as snow while running up against the mountains. The snow reaches four to five meters in depths, sometimes isolating the towns and villages in the region from others. The lonely atmosphere suggested by the title is infused throughout the book.
At an isolated mountain hot spring, with snow blanketing every surface, Shimamura, Kawabata's stark tale of a love affair between a Tokyo dilettante and a provincial geisha takes place in the town of Yuzawa. The hot springs in that region were home to inns, visited by men traveling alone and in groups, where paid female companionship had become a staple of the economy. The geisha of the hot springs enjoyed nothing like the social status of their more artistically trained sisters in Kyoto and Tokyo and were usually little more than prostitutes whose brief careers inevitably ended in a downward spiral. The liaison between the geisha, Komako, and the male protagonist, a wealthy loner who is a self-appointed expert on Western ballet, is thus doomed from the opening. The nature of that failure and the parts played by others form the theme of the book. I thrilled at the dense simplicity and sadness of Kawabata's story.

Snow CrashSnow Crash
by Neal Stephenson

“When you are wrestling for possession of a sword, the man with the handle always wins.”  ― Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash

In the future the only relief from the sea of logos is the computer-generated universe of virtual reality? But now a strange computer virus, called Snow Crash, is striking down hackers, leaving an unlikely young man as humankind's last hope. Like many of Stephenson's other novels it covers history, linguistics, anthropology, archaeology, religion, computer science, politics, cryptography, mimetics, and philosophy.
Stephenson explained the title of the novel in his 1999 essay In the Beginning... was the Command Line as his term for a particular software failure mode on the early Apple Macintosh computer. Stephenson wrote about the Macintosh that "When the computer crashed and wrote gibberish into the bitmap, the result was something that looked vaguely like static on a broken television set — a 'snow crash' ". Snow Crash established Stephenson as a major science fiction writer of the 1990s. The book appeared on Time magazine's list of 100 all-time best English-language novels written since 1923.

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Parrish Lantern said...

I'm a great fan of Yasunari Kawabata’s work & have read Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash and enjoyed it.

James said...

Thanks for your comment. My favorite by Kawabata is Thousand Cranes, but I've enjoyed everything that I've read.