on June 6, 2004
Pamuk has created an elaborate masterpiece. The book is a murder mystery on the surface. Like some of his books though it has many layers interwoven expertly. The setting, old Istanbul and Topkapi Palace grounds, among court artisans, allow him to dissect seemingly one of his favorite topics, philosophy and essence of East. What makes East, Orient? He constantly falls back to the rich history of Ottomans to explore and contrast East vs. West. What separates the two cultures way beyond religion? Art, especially visual art, maybe the best and most direct expression of a world view and indicator of where people place themselves with respect to God and all other creations and the story revolves around this theme.
There are no introductions, no prologues, epilogues, first page takes you right in, and you are being murdered. His use of first person narrative is very effective and very unnerving. This book took Pamuk many years to finish apparently, three of which was spent on translation alone, and it shows. The effort he has put in making his work available to World readers has been well worth it, something that other contemporary Turkish writers should emulate I believe. Though some have complained about the flat prose, this cannot be all attributed to the translation. He uses a non-elaborate style to simulate realism, which I believe, works well. Some of the scenes are quite violent and sexual references are sometimes shockingly raw, but this is 16th century and anyone who has read Rumi should not be too surprised. He paints very rich scenes, and as in a Vermeer painting, one is inevitably looking for that hidden clue, a faint reflection on the mirror for the identity of the villain in the story.
Some years ago I had a chance to see the very manuscripts that inspired the artisans in this book and occupy such a prominent place, on display in NY Metropolitan Museum. Given the time period, these were very bold and very impressive expressions pointing to an era in Islamic culture when the dark curtain of conservatism had not yet descended. If Sunni Arabs represent the warriors of Islam, surely Shiite Persians represent the artists. Their wonderful paintings, poetry and miniatures have dominated the Islamic art and literature scene and have set the standard for much more to come.
Pamuk has done extensive research and period accuracy is impressive. Though the writing is smooth and not convoluted, still it is not an easy read, but given the topic, which is a lot more than just a murder mystery, it is a small price to pay for a great book.
on October 17, 2007
MY NAME IS RED will delight some readers (who, like me, may be unable to put it down and look forward to a second reading) and bore others ("What's all this art/philosophy doing in a murder mystery?"). So the real question might be: Who would enjoy RED?
I haven't read THE NAME OF THE ROSE in years... decades... but RED reminds me of ROSE. The reader is invited into another time, another world. Entering the richness of that time and world must delight you as much as the characters or the plot.
The multiple points of view approach must also be a device you enjoy. RED plays with points of view ingeniously. In addition to people having their say, what the artist-characters depict have a say too. Even the color red speaks up. Imaginative. Marvelous. If you like that sort of thing.
I'm now on an Orhan Pamuk tear... SNOW is next...
on June 9, 2015
Fascinating book offering a glimpse into a world very few of us know much about: The Ottoman Empire at the apex of its glory, in the middle of 16th century. Orhan Pamuk takes us to the heart of Istanbul of those times and immerses us in the customs, intrigues and daily preoccupations of people living in that time and place. Readers who enjoyed “The name of the Rose” by Umberto Eco will love this. Like the other book, “My name is Red” delivers a thriller wrapped in a deep intellectual debate. This time the debate involves the aesthetics of painting and the way it relates to religion, culture and the history of humanity in general. The atmosphere around the characters and their debates is medieval and dark. However, little sparks announcing the future can be clearly seen. Elite Ottoman miniaturists engrossed in their masterful but impersonal painting style become aware that in Venice and beyond, Western painters depict human faces as they really are, different from each other and enhanced by the use of shadows and perspective. Can Allah tolerate that? Soon, it’s time to take sides; some miniaturists reject the new style, others would like to imitate it, some are still ambiguous. In an environment already saturated with professional jealousy, the dispute leads to murder and then to the race to uncover the murderer.
Pamuk lead us with mastery toward the denouement where the culprit is revealed and punished. Along the way he uses various characters and even un-animated objects as first person narrators . This technique allows him to better move the plot forward and deepen the mystery. Despite the multitude of narrators, Pamuk’s voice remains easily recognizable. The writing is strong and handles with ease highly refined aesthetically or theological topics as well as sexual themes and naturalistic descriptions.
There is an enormous amount of detail about Ottoman and Muslim art or history. This can be overwhelming at times but it can motivate the reader to find out more and search for new learning opportunities. A great reading experience.
on May 8, 2004
Winter 1590: in Istanbul a violent murder has been perpetrated. It is the same victim, a miniaturist, who tells the story of his death, describing as well his deep sorrow for the loss of the pleasures of life and his puzzlement for his curious new state of unrest.
But this is not a police story.
In the following chapters a gold coin, a dog, two dervishes, a tree will tell new stories... new murders will happen ... until the violent end of the killer that "restore" the equilibrium.
If not a police story, what kind of novel is this?
Well, it has been likened to Eco's "Name of The Rose" and the writer has been likened to Borges for his visionary and metaphysical imagination, but I believe there's much more: a kind of melancholy for the passing of time and its irreparable loss, the fascination for books and painting, the clashing of two different worlds (not only the East and the west, but also inside the Islamic faith), and far above, below and inside, the sense of life, flowing of life, of passion, love and delicate all-pervasive compassion and humanity, painted with such a craftsmanship to leave you open-mouthed.
So, if I must liken this book to something, it his the famous painting "The Tempest" of Giorgione who first come to mind. Not the description in itself his important here, but the whole portrait, the "sense of life" that delicately comes out from the many layers of painting.
On a purely literary level, I was amazed at the ability of the writer in mastering story and style: there are parts in which the expert reader can identify a portrait in the style of Dostoevskij... but loo... only for few pages ... only a hint of colour, because the writer is now changing again and using irony, and he seems to softly challenge you.
This is one of those rare books (rare indeed) in which you deeply regret, the more you proceed in reading, that inevitably the novel will reach an end.
I'm a passionate reader. If you have suggestion for further readings, you don't agree with what I write, or just want to say hallo... feel free to write.
on May 3, 2004
If for nothing else, this book deserves my highest rating
just for the wonderful and tormenting description
of death, spoken from the first perspective by one
of the victims.
Now back to the book.
Another great book by Orhan Pamuk!
If you have read all of his books so far,
you will find this book somehow different in style.
The most noticably, as previously mentioned, is the
angle of narration.
The story is told by all participants that have to do
something with the story - be they humans, animals, objects
like coins or materials like paint.
At first, it is hard to grasp the angles, and to catch up
with the development of the story.
Characters in this book are larger then life in their envy,
passion, talent, greed, and other natural gifts.
Yes, there is a murder mistery, but I am not really sure that it is the point in any way, except to amplify redness of the passions involved. Murder here comes more as a driver that keeps all the characters tunneled.
I almost feel like Pamuk threw the murder in the story to get more interests from the "historical mistery" audience.
Let me be honest with you - this is not
a "Da Vinci Code". This is a difficult, complex
master piece of the modern European and Turkish literature
that does not compromise with too many "historical"
elements. History here is invested rather then
The book is actually a page turner, but with delayed ignition.
This is now it worked for me:
It took me several weeks to go through the first half of the book,
and then it took me 2 days to finish the second half of the book.
For the ones familiar with Orhan Pamuk's works - you will not
be disappointed. At first, it feels a bit different then his previous novels,
but soon you get his common themes intervoven (such as Turkey between East and West)
in the story.
on January 28, 2004
Do you think there's nothing new under the literary sun? Maybe not, but MY NAME IS RED is nothing like any book I've ever read before. It's dense, it's literary, it's stunningly gorgeous. Needless to say, I absolutely loved it.
The novel takes place in the 16th century, in the Ottoman Empire and centers around the murder of a miniaturist named Elegant Effendi. Little by little, as we hear from such strange narrators as a corpse, a tree, a butterfly, a dog, a horse, etc., we learn that Elegant was no doubt murdered because of a secret manuscript, one on which his fellow miniaturists are still working.
MY NAME IS RED is definitely not a murder mystery, however. In fact, it's not a mystery of any kind. It's more an elaborate tapestry of ideas than a mystery (although we do find out the name of Effendi's killer), though it avoids polemic of any kind, in every area on which it touches.
The characters that populate MY NAME IS RED are wholly believable and totally engrossing. There is Esther, a Jewish fabric seller and matchmaker who loves gossip and makes it her business to carry notes from any one of her clients to any of the other. Of course, she reads the notes and even discusses their content with their recipients. There are the three miniaturists who were working with Elegant, each of whom is suspected of being his killer. There is Master Ossman, the master miniaturist who's trained the others and who cares deeply for all of them...but not quite as deeply as he cares for art. There is Shekure, a beautiful woman who's love story with a character named Black forms a significant and engaging subplot to the solving of the murder. Woven throughout the book is the voice of the murderer, himself, a man who is tortured by what he's done and the knowledge that sooner or later, he is going to be found out. Unlike most authors, Pamuk is quite adept at managing a large cast of characters and I know I never felt disoriented or confused. I simply felt engaged, in the fullest sense of the word.
Pamuk does a wonderful job of portraying each character's rich emotional life in this book and he does so without melodrama or hyperbole. I found myself caring about every one of the characters, whether I could identify with him or not. In no way, however, is this book a character study...unless it is a collective one.
Although this book centers on a murder, it is primarily a book of ideas and is very intellectually focused. We learn much about Turkish coffeehouse gossip and about the objections of the miniaturists to the Venetian manner of portrait painting (forbidden to the miniaturists). We learn much about Ottoman politics and everyday life in the Empire.
Like other master storytellers, Pamuk doesn't spell everything out in MY NAME IS RED. He wisely fills this masterpiece with holes and spaces for the reader to fill in. The entire narrative is infused with a nebulous, dreamlike quality that only serves to heighten the beauty and timelessness of the book.
MY NAME IS RED isn't an easy book to read. I wouldn't call it relaxing. The prose is dense and elaborate and there are times when the very convoluted plot can get to be a bit of a challenge, but any effort the reader puts into the book will be returned a hundredfold. Or more.
MY NAME IS RED is absolutely one of the most beautiful books I've ever read. It's not so much emotionally engaging as it is artistic. It is a definite masterpiece of art that is totally unlike anything I have ever read. I would definitely recommend this book to all lovers of Beauty and to those who appreciate highly intelligent, highly literary fiction. Pamuk is truly a genius.
on November 11, 2003
Pamuk's 16th Century Turkey is a magical world shot through with consciousness - all physical objects, natural and artificial, are invested with self-awareness, fully aroused, senses piqued and perceptively observant. Here we have "the mind" - the perfectly knowing, self-conscious thoughts - of coins, dogs, horses, painted dervishes, trees, the color Red, Death (personified and unpersonifed), and of an exuberant cast of unforgettable characters, both living and dead, whose insistent voices effortless cross over from the other side in Pamuk's seemingly borderless world of physical and spiritual Being. (Indeed, My Name Is Red begins, like Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard, the narrator speaking to us from a watery grave.)
A nickel's worth of dime-store aesthetics: one function of art is to elicit - through the creation of representations, the arrangement of symbols, and the like - sensations that might otherwise be impossible. I can never experience Ottoman Istanbul in its 16th Century context. I will never see with the eyes of a court miniaturist or illuminator of manuscripts or a courtier or a rag- or liver-seller. But Pamuk convincingly recreates these myriads of worlds in all their strangeness with the imagination and skill of an ethnologist who has lived among these lives for decades. Here is a unique world, and Orhan Pamuk the ideal tour guide.
With immense subtlety, literary nuance, and historical and philosophical erudition, Pamuk has written what, at its most fundamental level, is a literary-scholarly mystery that at times is reminiscent of Eco's The Name of the Rose. Someone is murdering the great miniaturists of the Ottoman court. But why kill an official painter or calligrapher, who works largely from royal commission, and who executes his commissions in a highly formalized manner that idealizes the absence of "style"? The world of Pamuk's late 16th Century Istanbul is one in which the pace of change is accelerating and colliding with entrenched forces of jealously preserved tradition. That world is nearly as exotic to contemporary Turks as it will be to us, and Pamuk (and his translator, Erdag Goknar) has a lot of explaining to do, which he manages by carefully assembling a painterly, almost pointillistic narrative, dab by dab, stroke by stroke, giving gradual shape to the story, displaying exemplary patience and timing, advancing or withholding plot and subplot with consummate skill.
My Name Is Red is also a monumental, and monumentally odd, love story, a tangled tale involving Pamuk's hero, "Black," and Shekure, the impossibly beautiful daughter of the Court's "Head Illuminator," as well as a host of other characters. My Name Is Red is, moreover, a formidable, forbidding book, filled with strange names and places and embedded tales from esoteric lands in faraway times, requiring considerable readerly patience and attention. In return for the effrontery of have made such demands, however, the author (and publisher) is bound by honor to provide rich rewards. Happily, Pamuk closes the deal. The familiar materials of the epic novel - love, hate, friendship, rivalry, loyalty and betrayal, political machinations, the clash of great ideas, the grinding together of tectonic movements of time, in which one side or the other must give way - are spectacularly worked in the dazzling, winding, dreamlike context of the Ottoman court.
For me, one long chapter at the heart of the novel captures perfectly the pervasive sense of the numinous that Orhan Pamuk casts in this beautiful novel. Black and the head illuminator receive extraordinary permission to search for clues within the inner sanctum and holiest of holies, the Royal Treasury. Their guide is an aged dwarf who knows the treasure rooms intimately and can locate any item in the antique clutter of countless conquests, royal gifts, and opulent indulgence. Noting the awe and apprehension on the faces of the two investigators - overwhelmed by the opportunity to caress and examine objects of legendary beauty or notoriety from among the piles of paintings, tapestries, jewels and bejeweled weapons, gold plate, rare oversized books - he asks, "Frightened? . . . Everybody is frightened on their first visit. At night the spirits of these objects whisper to each other."
With its whispering spirits, sentient paintings, quirky lovers, and a lost world fully realized and recovered, My Name Is Red is an absorbing, gorgeous gift of a novel from a master artist.
(And let me conclude by singing a paean in praise of amazon.com. I would never have discovered this book had I not, having read through several non-fiction works on Turkey, gone to the amazon.com web-page of one and seen "Customers who bought titles like this one also bought . . ." My Name is Red. "An intriguing title," I thought. A bookworm seldom needs more. So my most hearty thanks, amazon.com, Jeff Bezos and company, for having made such discoveries possible. Yes, yes, we all see the commercial motive, but - to stretch a point - the European Renaissance came out of commercial motives as well. We're all grownups here.)
on November 10, 2003
What a fascinating book. A discertation on the impact of western ideas upon traditional islamic values wrapped up in a murder mystery.
At its simplest "My name is Red" is a murder mystery set in Istanbul at the end of the the sixteenth century. A clerk named "Black" who has recently returned from a exile of over a decade is asked by his old master to investigate the murder of a gilder who was in the masters employ. A murder which may have arisen as a result of the illustrations that were being prepared for the Sultan to present as a gift to the Venetians.
On a deeper philosophical level, "My name is Red" is an investigation of the impact on Islamic throughts and traditions of the Western "Frankish" society, with specific emphasis on the art of the illustrator/minaturist. A style of art in which the standard of perfection has been established, where varying from that style, where the addition of your own touch, your own signature on an image established centuries before by a master is tantamount to heresy.
on April 7, 2003
It is tempting to compare "My Name Is Red (MNIR)" with Umberto Eco's "The Name Of The Rose" but that would be to deny Orhan Pamuk's masterpiece its own beauty and originality. Pamuk's technique of using a rotating cast of narrators not only adds to the intrigue of the murder mystery but facilitates the juxtaposition of the conflicting opinions that emerged in Turkish society at a time when foreign influences were slowly but surely creeping into the arts and craft of its traditional civilisation. While the whodunnit element remains undoubtedly the driving force behind the narrative, readers are likely to derive their biggest payoff from their appreciation of the Islamic philosophy towards the arts, the painting of still and natural life, and of how and why it is an abomination against God for any artist to develop his own style or paint a lifelike portrait of any human being. In depicting the duplicity of its characters, the novel also pierces the facade of a closed and repressive order.
MNIS is a monumental piece of work that has to be read to be believed. Written and translated into a prose that's accessible, vivid and rich with poetic imagery, I believe MNIR will one day sit alongside other modern masterpieces of the century. Highly, highly recommended.
on February 17, 2003
Early in the novel, a miniaturist named Olive says "Through our colors, paints, art and love, we remember that Allah had commanded us to "See"!". I found myself thinking about that line repeatedly later throughout this wonderful book.
First, be warned, this is not a quick read by any means. There is no omniscient narrative voice to smooth the path for the reader. Instead, the reader is presented with multiple voices and perspectives-- some from the characters themselves, some from the illustrations in the books, one memorable passage is even told from the point of view of ink itself.
And while there is a story and the story is important (the commissioning of the religiously dubious book by the Sultan, the subsequent murderer of Elegant Effendi, Black's efforts to find the killer, save the book and win the hand of his cousin Shekure), it is not as though the story were the book and it only orders the flow of the multiple perspectives rather than really making the reading of the book easier.
Pamuk has been much cited in the press lately, not only for his views as a novelist, but also for his views on what he calls the 'absurd' conflict between east and west. Through using the medium of the narrow world of the miniaturists in the 16th century, Pamuk gently addresses the issue of heresy and pollution by stressing the continual influence of other cultures on the classical miniature form and by making clear through debates on individuality, blindness, and style where many of the differences between east and west are located. And also, of course, the similarities are revealed in the same manner.
I found _My Name Is Red_ to be by turns funny, thought-provoking and moving. I was never bored even though it took me perhaps three times as long to read as another book of similar length.
Some tips to the reader: read and even re-read the chronology at the back. Also, the publisher's web site for the book has some images of the paintings referred to by the characters. I found it useful to refer to them after I'd finished the novel.