Ka, a poet and a turkish political exile, returns to Turkey from Germany after 12 years. Upon a friend's advice he decides to undertake a life changing journey to Kars, a sleepy little town on the eastern border, posing as a journalist. A suicide epidemic has broken out among th young girls of Kars and a municipal election is on the cards. The story is being told in third person by a close friend of Ka's long after the events have actually taken place.
The girls of Kars are forbidden from wearing headscarves in the university and this along with other forms of ill treatment meted out to them has led to the epidemic. A snow blizzard engulfs the city and breaks all modes of communication and transport from the rest of the world. Ka himself is reunited with an old crush from college, Ipek, and falls in love with her. Her sister, Kadife, is the leader of the headscarf girls, who refuse to give up thier right to religion. Kadife is also in love with an (alleged) Islamist terrorist called Blue.
Ka and Ipek witness the murder of the education director of the local university, the man behind the ban on headscarves. Blue's involment in the murder is widely rumoured and Ka finds himself surrounded by political controversies. Also a writers block that he has been suffering from suddenly gets lifted and several beautiful poems start 'coming' to him. The love between Ka and Ipek develops further and he starts harbouring dreams of a happy life ahead with Ipek back in Germany. Though he is a long time atheist, newly found love, the politico-cultural unrest and the 'divine' poems confuse him and he starts looking for answers in religion. A budding friendship with a religious student Necip (who interestingly is bending towards atheism himself) also helps.
A revolutionary theatre group has also arrived in the city and they stage a play which becomes a front for a military coup and an army takeover of Kars to prevent an Islamist victory in the forthcoming elections. Necip is killed in the coup. Many religious students are arrested and tortured. In the course of events, Blue is arrested as well and is sentenced to death by the new regime.
The mastermind behind this coup, Sunay Zaim, is a forgotten theatre personality who has ideas of his own. He decides to stage another play and broadcast it on local television and wants Kadife to remove her headsacrf in it as a political statement. In return he is ready to release Blue. He chooses Ka to act as an arbitrator in this deal and threatens him with arrest if he does not comply. Scared of losing his new found happiness, Ka falls in with the plan. Eventually he brokers a deal and Blue is released and he hides at a secret location. Now however Blue changes his mind and sends for Ka once again. He tells Ka that he no longer wants Kadife to bare her head.
When Ka is on his way back from Blue's secret hideout the secret police of Turkey, The MIT, takes him in and interrogates him on the whereabouts of Blue. When Ka feigns ignorance they tell Ka that Ipek was in a relationship with Blue and is still in touch. They then release him. Heartbroken, he returns to his hotel where he asks Ipek if what the MIT has told him is true. Ipek concedes that she was once in love with him but denies any contact now whatsoever.
Meanwhile, preparations are underway for the play and Ipek and her father plead with Ka to go and stop Kadife from performing in it. Ka agrees and tries to persuade Kadife but she decides that she will bare her head after all. Ka makes his way back to the hotel but is apprehended by the army on the way. The blizzard being over, the transport links have opened again and the army decide to send Ka away for good. Ka sends word to Ipek to reach the railway station directly. Ipek recieves the message and begins preparations for leaving. Then she recieves a message that Blue has been found out and murderd by the secret police. Convinced that Ka has given him away out of jealousy, Ipek decides to stay and Ka has to leave without her. He spends the rest of his life in Germany a dejected man. Four years later he is assasinated by a Turkish Islamist group which holds him responsible for Blue's fate.
Orhan (probably the author himself), the narrator, decides to find out the 'divine' poems that Ka wrote while in Kars and also find out whether Ka had really sold Blue out. He visits Frankfurt and then Kars. He is unable to find the poems but discovers that Ka had indeed been the person because of whom Blue died. As a farewell to his friend, Orhan decides to write a book on his journey to Kars.