My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk

Title:- My Name Is Red
Genre:- Fiction
Subgenre:- Novel
Author:- Orhan Pamuk
Translator:- Erdağ M. Göknar
Publisher:- Random House
ISBN Number:- 0-375-70685-2
Price:- US $ 14.95/Canada $ 22.95/Indian Rs. 220

The Blurb

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.

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. But because figurative art can be deemed an affront to Islam, this commission is a dangerous proposition indeed. And when one of the master miniaturists disappears, the only clue to the mystery lies in the half-finished illuminations themselves. Part fantasy and part philosophical puzzle, My Name Is Red is a kaleidoscopic journey into the introspection of art, religion, love, sex, and power.

The Review

Easily one of Orhan Pamuk's more talked about books, ‘My Name Is Red’ by the turkish author has been in the limelight for all sorts of reasons. It has had the honour of being one of the most critically acclaimed works of the Nobel Laureate, as well as suffered ignominy at the hands of Turkish fundamentalists, leading to the prosecution of Turkey’s most fearless and talented living novelist.

The novel recounts the story of four master miniaturists engaged at the royal atelier in the creation of a commemorative story in verse, the Book Of Festivities to mark the thousandth anniversary of the Hegira. Their work is to illustrate and embellish the book in the Venetian style making use of the techniques of perspective and idolatry, which were at the time deemed an affront to Islam. When one of the master miniaturists protests, he is found killed at the bottom of a well. The quest for the killer played against the backdrop of sixteenth-century Istanbul and the tragic courtship of Black, a miniaturist and Shekure, Enishte Effendi’s daughter make for a compelling read.

Like all great novels, the unraveling mystery becomes a metaphor for the unfolding of human spirit and conscience. However, what is most remarkable about Pamuk and what sets him apart from his coevals is the extent of scholarship and omniscience that he commands. It places him as a Turkish master in the cohorts of Dickens, Proust and Mann - arguably the greatest writers of English, French and German respectively. Incidentally, Mann himself won the Nobel in 1929 for The Motion Mountain. (I shall review this work soon.)

Though the theme of the novel concentrates on the philosophical questions of the need and importance of style and signature in the arts of painting and illustration, Pamuk manages to lighten the mood by using the motifs of Nusret Hoja and the upcoming coffeehouse. The latter is depicted as the cynosure of all depravity where dervishes dance late into the night and blasphemous stories are retold in a bid to pollute people’s minds.

Each book has its moments, and this novel is no exception. Perhaps the most poignant moment is the one when Master Osman, the head miniaturist of the royal atelier, cloyed by the sight of the most perfect of all paintings in the royal treasury, blinds himself with the same plume needle that the master of masters Bihzad had once used to blind himself. Also Nizami’s tale of Husrev and Shirin has been evoked a countless number of times, and to good use.

Pamuk manages to concoct a wonderful fantasy hemmed by melancholy and tragedy in a way nobody has ever done before. It is ironic that Pamuk who secretly advocates the futility of style in the book has inadvertently ended up creating a very realistic, spartan and distinct style all his own.

Undoubtedly, ‘My Name Is Red’ is a work of genius! A must read!!!


Abhinav said...

I plan to review his 'Snow' soon. But that must wait until after my exams. Also in the pipeline are Tagore's Gora, Choker Bali, Gitanjali, Naipaul's A House For Mr. Biswas, etc. I would like to know your meta-reviews of this review. ;-)

Wendy said...

Thank you for a fabulous review! I have yet to read one of Pamuk's novels and look forward to doing so. Perhaps I should start with this one!

gautami tripathy said...

I bought it yesterday. Look forward to read it.

aloi said...

abhinav, thanks for posting it here (instead of having to sort thru archives).

i noticed that pamuk loves mysteries - or rather presenting highly political stories in a mystery. is "snow" also a mystery (i've red "the black book" which is a mystery-of-sorts)?

Abhinav said...

@Wendy:- Thanks for liking it... Do start with this one... You'll love it I assure.

Abhinav said...

@Gautami:- I'm glad you did... I hope you love it...

Abhinav said...

@Aloi:- Thanks for asking... Never mind the effort...

Pamuk writes novels in the style of discovery. They are a questioning of changing scenarios revealed - the rise and the fall, the zenith and the nadir... It is his tendency to inquire into the nature of love and loss, politics and spirituality, morality and debauchery that gets his novels labeled as mysteries.

Snow is another such inquisitive novel written with a master's unforgiving eye.

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