My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk

I picked this book on my Karnataka tour and soon cursed myself. This isn’t a book to be carried on a tour, to be read on a train, and the likes. This book is best served with a lot of coffee/ginger-tea and a long vacation. But then I wasn’t so lucky.

My Name Is Red is an intricately woven and beautifully told story that among other things revolves around the debate on the nature of art. Set in the late 16th century Istanbul, the book uses the history of Islamic art, and through it touches the very fundamental questions to the nature of art, including style, as one of the protagonists (or one of the twenty odd narrators — more on this later) says:

“But I have no style whatsoever. Having a style would be worse than being a murderer”

At first the shifting POVs were confusing for me, but then I got used to them, so much so that it seemed very natural way of storytelling, and especially for a book like this which discusses such open ended fundamental questions, having more POVs literally means having more perspectives. Something which makes the book very special.

Pamuk is a master story-teller: his characters recount stories after stories, for illustrating their point or even making one. It’s strange that many of these characters are themselves miniaturists – the artists who are supposed to compliment the stories with illustration – but in the novel they compliment their thoughts/feelings with stories! We’ve come a complete circle.

And all these stories, myths, about famous artists, poets, sultans and patrons of arts, are tightly woven into a plot which reads like a typical mystery novel, or a romance novel, whichever way you look at it. This book is the Foucault’s Pendulum of the world of art. I’ll recommend it for anyone who likes off-beat books.

For those who must have a glimpse of the plot, the Sultan wants a book to be made with illustrations, to gift to the Venetian Doge (go google) to impress them with the Ottoman power. Master illustrator Enishte Effendi is in charge of this project and wants to use the methods of the “Franks” which are against Islamic art. One of the miniaturist is murdered; Black, who is supposed to be writing the text is in love with Enishte’s beautiful daughter, whose husband is missing for years, and is rumoured to have died in a battle; and one of the three remaining miniaturists on the project is suspected to be behind the murder. When the Enishte Effendi is also found murdered in his home, the Sultan has to know what is happening. And the only clues are in pictures that are drawn for the Sultan’s book. And if I failed to interest you, blame me, not Pamuk. Give it a try, anyways.

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8 thoughts on “My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk

  1. anonymous says:

    Halfway thru your review I was already feeling sorry for Salonii for buying this book on Ur reco. (And to be quite honest, I quit reading the review mid-way).

    Appears to be quite heavy stuff to me. Would love to hear what poor Sal has to say on this book 🙂

  2. anonymous says:

    Asuph,
    Loved the book too – was dazzled by it, actually. His writing is so intelligent without being boring and, worse, pompous. I’m not sure I fully understood all the philospohical arguments about art, but certainly the rest of the plot(romance thriller!) and characters make it a page turner. Saloni, IW – I totally second asuph’s recco!
    Topkapi

  3. anonymous says:

    i’ve got 3 books by pamuk sitting around – i bought “snow”, “istanbul” & this one after a morning’s buckwaas session many months ago about pamuk with bottled-imp. but i haven’t gotten around to reading them yet.

    maybe i will, after reading your review.

    -ssm

  4. asuph says:

    iw: well you underestimate sal 😀
    topkapi: thanks for stopping by.
    ssm: yeah, I have a feeling you’d love this one. and if you’re not reading them, why don’t you send them over to me :p

    asuph.

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