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"My Name is Red"
Synopsis

My Name is Red: A truly cultural novel that forces the reader to think outside the box.

Set in 16th century Istanbul, My Name is Red discusses the various aspects of the life of an Islam illustrator. The Sultan commissions the best artists and Enishte Effendi to magnificently illustrate a book celebrating Him and His realm. The only criterion the Sultan has is to illuminate the book in Frankish, or European, style. This is a dangerous proposition because the art can be deemed as an affront to the Islam culture. As a result, the Sultan orders the project to progress in ultimate secret.

When one of the chosen minaturists, Elegant, goes missing, the book turns into a mystery novel. Black, nephew of Enishte Effendi, is sent to investigate the case. He discovers three prime suspects: Butterfly, Stork, and Olive, all fellow minaturists who worked alongside Elegant. But there's another catch to the story: everyone, including Black, is in love with Shekure, Enishte's daughter. A love story protrudes, making the investigation even harder for Black.

The book also portrays the extravagant Islam arts, providing a basic understanding of Islam culture and thought. We are shown how minaturists view and depict their illustrations. The very philosophy behind how to draw the "right" picture is discussed, including talents associated with good illustrations. Basically, we are taught through the characters the basics of becoming a minaturist.

Admist these discussions erupts a large controversy: whether the "perfect" picture should portray the subject realistically (as if looking through the eyes of Allah) or pictorically (through our memories of the subject). A conflict arises between the traditional Islam art and European art that has slowly started to influence many Islam illustrators. In fact, we find out that it is this particular debate that caused the murderer to kill his victim.

Orhan Pamuk incorporates a style used by other authors: he uses multiple perspectives to tell the story. In addition, the point of view changes every chapter, giving readers a variety of thoughts. However, these interpretations don't always come from humans. For instance, the first chapter takes on the thoughts of a corpse. In another chapter, the color Red (hence, the title of this story) tells the story. Even though there are other authors who have used changing perspectives in their novels, Orhan Pamuk adds his own tiny twist.

Altogether, My Name is Red is like a kaleidoscope of genres, mixing mystery, romance, culture, and philosophy all into one book.

Review

A difficult read, but in the end, strangely intriguing.

My Name is Red is unlike any other book I've read before: many of the stories and plots were straightforward, in chronological order, and narrated from just one person. This novel, however, was quite the opposite.

The novel starts with the murder, even though there were many significant events in the past. Thus, the author incorporates many flashback "instances". This confuses readers by developing the story out of sequence. For example, in the midst of a conversation, one character suddenly contemplates on past events, describing and relating it to what happens now. Certainly, it is an interesting way to convey a single story. In fact, it maybe even captivating for readers. However, it seems that Orhan Pamuk has used this style just too much. He starts the story too late on the timeline so that in almost every chapter, at least one flashback is necessary. It's possible the reader might not be able to form the big picture until midway through the book.
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Orhan Pamuk

What adds to the confusion is the fact that there are multiple narrators. The perspective changes after every chapter. Thus as the readers, we also have to constantly change how we think with the novel. Logically, multiple narrators are good. It provides an unbiased picture of the overall story. We don't get just one person's outlook, we get many. The more, the better. But a downside? It just gets confusing.

Furthermore, many foreigners aren't all that familiar with the Islam culture. If they do, challenge them to read My Name is Red. It really puts to the test whether one actually knows Istanbul, especially about traditional art. What are the ideals for the "perfect painting", according to Islam standards? What is the social hierarchy maintained within Istanbul? What are some values that they believe in? These are only some of the questions that may haunt a reader.

Such are the obstacles a reader may face throughout the whole book. However, once the book is finished, the reader is left with a small sense of accomplishment. Only those who have actually read the novel will understand what I mean by a "small sense of accomplishment". This is precisely why many people have claimed that My Name is Red is an extraordinarily well-written novel and suggest it to others.

Author Biography

Orhan Pamuk was born on 1952 in a wealthy, westernized district of Istanbul. He dreamed about becoming an artist/architect but at age 23, gave up everything to become a novelist. Since then, he hasn't done anything except write.

He has written numerous novels, many of which earned him international awards and fame. He first became famous with The White Castle (1985) and then with The Black Book (1990). Both have won elite international book awards. He is also the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2006.

Links

Orhan Pamuk's website
Barnes & Noble book review
MetaxuCafe article