“My name is red”

my-name-is-red-portada.pngMy name is red, written by the well known Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk , winner of the Nobel Price, is the only novel from the author I have read but it will definitely not be the last one. Actually it is his 6th novel, all of them translated into more than 20 languages, so better late than never to discover a great fiction writer. It took five years for Pamuk to write this novel, to my humble understanding well inverted.

Among the circle of miniaturist of the 16th Century in Istanbul, a murder is committed for the sake of a secret book’s illustrations committed by the Sultan. The book seems to use certain orthodox techniques in its illustrations which could be pointed as heresy; therefore it is persecuted by the Preacher of Hoja. Betraying their master, Master Osman , which is a detractor of other techniques other than the traditional from Heart,  4 miniaturists  of his work shop (Olive, stork, Butterfly and Elegant) secretly  work for this mysterious book, coordinated by Enishte. When Elegant Effendi starts to suspect about the orthodoxy of the book’s illustrations he is murdered, unleashing the fears and worries of all those who in someway are related to the book or have interests in its fulfillment or destruction. The plot combines the investigation around the murder guided by Enichte’s nephew, Black, who has returned to Istanbul after 12 years, with a love story between  him and Shekure, Enishte’s daughter, taking in count that she lives with the memory of a  never returning husband from war and his brother In law who is also in love with her. It is also important the role of, Esther, a Jewish peddler who becomes the nosy letter messenger between some of the characters.

The magic and charm of the novel’s pages relay mostly on its original and wonderful structure. Chapters correspond to the different character’s voices, including the murdered (Elegant Effendi) and the murder , which plays with two voices, it’s real identity as a one of the miniaturists (Olive, Stork , Butterfly) and its murderer voice, which along the pages smoothly match to reveal in the end which of the miniaturists hides the voice of the assassin. Each character provides his part of the story and with all their pieces you can complete the puzzle. They talk to the reader as if in confession, reveling their hopes and fears and justifying their actions; all the characters create a confidential and intimate bond with you, as if you were the judge; indeed the reader is always an unconscious judge for the characters of the stories he reads, and Pamuk grabs this fact and introduces it smartly into the format of his novel, involving the reader to the point where   he will be told all the character’s sins and secrets. Amid  the characters,  a dog, a tree, a coin and other relevant object also have a personal voice, depicting their point of view, what becomes very unusual and interesting.

The book submerges you into the underworld of page painting and illustration, making profound reflections about the intentions and details of the illustrations which always hide double meanings. It is very interesting to learn, how the art of miniaturists works, the kind of techniques they used, and what becomes a great conflict in the novel, the differences of style and technique of the different schools and masters.

In the context of this particular world, the main universal human feelings, love, hate and faith are delightfully explored, expressed from the different character’s voices giving a transcendental and very human side to the novel. Pamuk tackles the wide subject of the different cultural perspectives especially between east and west; religion and cultural values directly affect the characters, projecting an overview of the influence of these matters in our cultures. On other hand curiosity is satisfied through the thriller plot of the murder committed and what will come, giving the mystery and suspense in its right dosage. Black becomes a forced detective to investigate over Elegant Effendi ‘s death, moved by his love and marriage opportunity with Shekure. His fortunes and misfortunes and the things he goes through and discovers will make you follow him closely hanging on to see if he will be able to get to the truth and win Shekure’s love.

The novels also depicts the way of living and hierarchy established in the Istanbul of the 16th century, offering stimulating descriptions of this city which the author very well knows, for it is his beloved hometown and has lived there his entire live except for three years when he  moved to New York. The topic is also related to Pamuk, as he wanted to be a painter when he was younger, although he had to give up this artistic discipline.

The content is at the time enveloped in a very depurate and delicate style, with a rich use of vocabulary, sometimes though, I have too say , too technical and precise. It gives sweeping descriptions and makes very good use of metaphors. It is a complex book to read in detail, inviting to reflection and cultural awareness.

As a whole I greatly enjoyed this reading, and still miss my night appointments with its characters.

Rebeca Arnal





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