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After twelve years in political exile in Germany, a poet Ka returns to Istanbul for his mother's funeral, and takes a commission to report on the municipal elections in Kars near the Russian border. There he discovers a dangerous atmosphere, with tensions running high between the political Islamists and the 'enlightened, pro-Western' Turkish military. The second half of the novel takes place over a three-day period. Following the set-piece military coup, Pamuk brilliantly explores such themes as politics, love, ethics, religion and poetry, as we gradually discover the real truth concerning the poet and the snow covered old-world city of Kars.

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