My Name Is Red

My Name Is Red

by Orhan Pamuk

At once a fiendishly devious mystery, a beguiling love story, and a brilliant symposium on the power of art, My Name Is Red is a transporting tale set amid the splendor and religious intrigue of sixteenth-century Istanbul, from one of the most prominent contemporary Turkish writers.The Sultan has commissioned a cadre of the most acclaimed artists in the land to create a great book celebrating the glories of his realm.

Their task: to illuminate the work in the European style.

lies in the half-finished illuminations themselves.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Fiction
  • Rating: 3.84
  • Pages: 417
  • Publish Date: August 27th 2002 by Vintage

What People Think about "My Name Is Red"

The novel is set up so that each chapter introduces a different narrator, including (but not limited to), Black, Black's uncle, Shekure, a dog, a horse, the murderer and various artists in the workshop. As much as this is a novel concerning visual images, it is also a novel about ekphrasis--the verbal description of art. When the image of the horse, described several times in the novel, is given a voice of its own the narrative is not interrupted, but rather the description of the image becomes the narrative. And, moreover, as the image speaks it refutes the fundamental principles underlying Master Osman's devotion to Islamic traditions of art.

This book is as much about art as it is a historical novel. (I say lengthy because the 500-page paperback I read was tiny type, so this is a 700- or 800- page book in normal font.) Miniaturist painting was imported into the Ottoman Empire from Persia. (Think of the Irish monks manuscripts such as the Book of Kells.) Ottoman miniaturist painting was highly stylized. The painter tried to portray the ideal horse or chair as Allah created it (think Platos ideal chair), not the individual variant before them. The story kept my interest and I enjoyed learning about Ottoman art, even when the sections where the miniaturists talked about the philosophy behind painting got repetitive at times.

Set in the 16th century, we are transported into an Istanbul of the Ottoman empire with a murder mystery told in the voices of the characters (and sometimes these are drawings in the books or just concepts) that inhabit the story.

But seriously, though this book is amazing I can't get into it.

(I apologize in advance if this ends up being something of a ramble through the literary bramble, but I can only say that that would mirror the experience of reading this book.) My Name is Red will tell you that it is a murder mystery, set in 16th century Istanbul, under the rule of the Sultan. As a part of his contradictory feelings towards the West, in a culture whose stories and traditions often originated in the East... His expression of ambivalence towards Western culture perfectly expresses the mindset of illuminators in 16th century Istanbul terrified that their entire lives are about to become irrelevant. The other absorbing, fascinating, and horrifying thing was how well Pamuk illustrates the idea that absolutely nobody speaks with their own voice, both through his painters, constrained by centuries of adherance to a perfect style that some random master brought out of Baghdad that depicts the "perspective of Allah." It is considered heresy and a fault to have a "style", and "signatures" are furitively hidden away as much as possible- the idea that blindness is the ideal to be obtained for these artists is just heartbreaking- at least to someone coming at it from a Western perspective, where seeing painters deliberately rob themselves of their sight, their most precious commodity, over and over again, in the course of obtaining a meaningless idea of perfection that is not their own. The majority of people who are speaking a themselves tell stories in order to express their feelings- in fact at the beginning all the suspected illuminators speak almost entirely in story form in order to answer any important question on any philosophical, religious, or even personal topic. It was the ultimate tragedy of the book from the Western perspective, and the ultimate triumph of the book from the accepted ides of the time, all of these de-individualized people (as much as can be done or denied or pushed from sight) striving towards the goal of seeing as Allah does, ever in the correct way. But everyone recognizes the end of the "Eastern" way of life coming from the West, in the guise of the "Venetian" ways that everyone will want to slavishly follow in the future, ways which reactionary preachers and religious people are protesting against before they've even made serious headway, trying to keep their way of life "pure." But the rest of the book poitns out again and again that there is no way that the culture of the Ottoman Empire was pure in any way- no constantly conquering culture with a large army and a long reach could ever be.

Orhan Pamuk was born in Istanbul in 1952 and grew up in a large family similar to those which he describes in his novels Cevdet Bey and His Sons and The Black Book, in the wealthy westernised district of Nisantasi. The following year Pamuk published his novel The Silent House, which in French translation won the 1991 Prix de la découverte européene. This novel was published in Turkey in 1990, and the French translation won the Prix France Culture. The Black Book enlarged Pamuk's fame both in Turkey and internationally as an author at once popular and experimental, and able to write about past and present with the same intensity. His novel The New Life, about young university students influenced by a mysterious book, was published in Turkey in 1994 and became one of the most widely read books in Turkish literature.