Art, Istanbul, Love, Islam, Philosophy, Power, and Pulchritude: My name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

My Name is Red
by Orhan Pamuk
[translated from the Turkish by Erdag M. Göknar]
Faber & Faber
2001

I went looking for this book in Bangalore. Nuzzled in between other Pamuk books, I found it in Blossoms. I almost screamed with delight, when the power went off and I had to fight the urge to take some books and walk out! (And you thought I was the righteous kind eh?)

The basic story combines love, murder, and intrigue with the situation in Istanbul somewhere in the 16th century. Istanbul, as you know, is sandwiched between Asia and Europe. Even today, the people are pulled in both directions – Western civilization from Europe and Asian customs since they follow Islam. But it not a religious novel.

The story proper: the Sultan wants to make a book which contains pictoral representations of all that is important in the kingdom. However, Islam does not believe in pictoral representations. So, this is a hush-hush project involving the Sultan and some illustrators. At the beginning of the novel, a murder takes place. So far, it’s a common-enough story, did you say? Hold on. The person who tells us about the murder is the corpse itself! Isn’t that novel?

Among other narrators in the story are a tree, a dog, a gold coin, Death, a horse, Satan, and two dervishes. And I’m not counting the human narrators here. This is clearly a new way of storytelling. In fact, I picked up this novel because of its narrative technique.

To continue with the story: one of the illustrators is murdererd and this sends shivers of panic through the spines of other illustrators. To Pamuk’s credit, the identity of the murderer is not revealed till the end. In the midst of all this snuggles a love story of the master illustrator Enishte Effendi’s daughter Shekure and the binder-illustrator Black Effendi. In between the story of the evolution of miniature art and the evolution of love a murder mystery neatly fits in.
The story is unique because it comes from another culture but the translation is a bit strained. It seemed that the translated sentences would shine better in the local language than English. An example:

As I listened to him, I sensed with horror how his words has such strength and gravity that, willingly or not, people would heed them, hoping that would prove true about miserable creatures other than themselves. (Pg, 19, Pamuk)

I can’t help thinking that this sentence like many others could have been phrased better.

I confess, I took sometime to finish this book. And the style of the writer/translator, needed sometime to get used to. That said, it is still an excellent work of fiction. Read it if you are seriously interested in reading. It’s not a breezy story. There are heavy asides into Islamic and miniaturist philosophy. Good fun for those who have read heavier books. But if you looking for a timepass kind of book, I’d advice you to skip it.

Rating: : * * * * = Bindaas(Great)

My Rating System:
* * * * * = Khallas (Deadly)
* * * * = Bindaas (Great)
* * * = Jhakaas (Good)
* * = Timepass(Okay)
* = Bakwaas (Avoid it)

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7 thoughts on “Art, Istanbul, Love, Islam, Philosophy, Power, and Pulchritude: My name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

  1. AFJ,
    This sounds really interesting!! I can understand why you took time to read the book 🙂
    BTW, I know you are not righteous. No book lover is 😉

  2. History of Islamic miniatures and philosophy…this is going to burn a deeper hole in my already burnt and frayed pockets. Thanks a million for the review.

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