My Name Is Red

My Name is Red - Orhan Pamuk, Erdağ M. Göknar It's not often you find books that start with the speech of an already dead character. It's actually pretty damn rare to find dead bodies speaking at all, wouldn't you agree? Well, Pamuk apparently didn't get the memo. Because that is exactly how his wonderful work, "My Name is Red", starts.

The body of "Elegant" Effendi is rotting in a well, somewhere in Istanbul. During life, he was a miniaturist, an artistry that is usually found in Ottoman books, and his talent was known as one of the best of his days, hence the nick-name "Elegant". His carcass, decaying in its crumpled position on the bottom of that well, tells the reader that he has been murdered, and demands that his killer be found. He dreams of the tortures that the one who ended his life will suffer. A four-days old mort dreams of vengeance...

The next thing you notice in the book is that every chapter is constructed around a single, individual character. This means that the reader's perspective resembles that of a God, looking through different sets of eyes at the same image. This over-seeing that you are burdened with in the beginning becomes a kind of judging position, as you, as a passive by-stander, are integrated in the story. You slowly become the one who is looking for the murderer. You have three that might be killer-fabric: Olive, Butterfly and and Stork. At one point, one of them deceives himself through his unique painting style. Also, the human characters are not the only ones who speak through the chapters; Death itself talks about how she roams the streets of Istanbul, a tree drawn by a miniaturist tells the story of his creation, a coin of their time talks about its journey through many pockets etc. Through the "lifeless" characters of this work, you understand not only the art of miniaturists (with the help of the tree drawing), but the whole world itself, the setting in which you are bound to live for as long as you read Pamuk's writing.

I think there are three major lines in this book: the quest to find Elegant Effendi's murderer, the love story between Black and Shekure and the creation of a book that Black was commissioned to do.

Black is a miniaturist and a binder, who just returned to Istanbul after 12 years as a free worker in different realms of our world. He is, at the moment of the story, 36 years old, but is also presented as a young 24 year old man who fell in love with the then 12-year-old Shekure, daughter of Black's uncle, Enishte Efendi. Even after 12 years spent away, even if her face might have faded from his mind, Black understands that the love of his life is her and that he is capable of doing anything to have Shekure next to him. Nothing is an impediment in his quest: even the fact that she is already married seems to be just a minor problem on their way. He sets out to win her, and is in the process taken under the wing of her father, Enishte Efendi, who tells him that he has to work on an ample book of pictures celebrating the magnificent world that they live in, but in the "Frank" style, which is what they would call European figurative painting.

This is where the story of the book intertwines with the story of the two characters' love, because if he wants Shekure, Black must finish the book.

Because of the Islam religion, figurative art is considered a blasphemy, as, and I quote: "Islam allows to portray a picture as Allah sees it to be". In the setting of this book, which is Istanbul of 1591, a year before the 1000th anniversary of the Hegire (Mohammed's exile from Mecca to Medina), Ottoman culture seems to have been changed by this individual approach to art. They are not permitted to create things as they see them, but rather as they should ideally and hypotethically be seen by their God, Allah. This European style that Black and others have to work in is a blasphemous act, therefore it was done in the utmost secrecy, always in fear that they should be discovered. It is this particular action that shows how culture can be changed by introducing a new viewpoint in art - this time, in painting.

Speaking of painting: this whole book is probably one of the most competent explanations of how art, and especially miniaturist painting here, evolved. It talks about how it is the most important possible work, as it lasts through centuries and shows people what their history looked like. It talks about the miniaturist's blessing and curse, becoming blind towards the end of his life, when he can paint more beautifully than ever, because he sees through the eyes of his mind, of his soul. A detail therefore, becomes the image and the image becomes the detail, as they are so intertwined that you can't separate them. And still, with all the mighty human painters, time is this art's master. A lot of detail work has been put into this book, and the magnitude of the descriptions is rarely to be found in writing, these days. Like Mo Yan, Pamuk deserves his 2006 Nobel Prize; his unique style is a light seam through the cloth of life, culture, humanity, heart, mind and soul of Creation, and he writes beautifully about what he thinks is important.

And there are so many moments in this book that are pure joy for the attentive reader! It sometimes touches on how love might be a curse, a rope around the lover's neck, obliging him to thread lightly on silky footsteps around this dangerous animal of a feeling, and it sometimes talks about love as if it is the noblest of the feelings and the only paradise that man can aspire at. "My Name is Red" touches on problems of marriage and sexual frustration and the dehumanization of the sexual act, how it can be just a mindless, void moment, rather than an union between two beings who love each other. It debates religion, spirituality, cultural identity, death, infinity and so many more other themes that most of the writers are not capable of even integrating in their work, let alone attempt to explain them.

Another recommendation made by my History teacher, yet another one I thank him for. Cheers!