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. The ruling elite therefore mustn't know the full scope or nature of the project, and panic erupts when one of the chosen miniaturists disappears. The only clue to the mystery - or crime? - lies in the half-finished illuminations themselves. Part fantasy and part philosophical puzzle,
My Name is Red is a kaleidoscopic journey to the intersection of art, religion, love, sex, and power.
Translated from the Turkish by Erdag Goknar.
©2008 Orhan Pamuk; (P)2008 Random House, Inc.
"It is neither passion nor homicide that makes Pamuk's latest, My Name is Red, the rich and essential book that it is. . . . It is Pamuk's rendering of the intense life of artists negotiating the devilishly sharp edge of Islam 1,000 years after its brith that elevates My Name is Red to the rank of modern classic. . . . To read Pamuk is to be steeped in a paradox that precedes our modern-day feuds beteween secularism and fundamentalism." (Jonathan Levi, Los Angeles Times Book Review)
"Straddling the Dardanelles sits the city of Istanbul . . . and in that city sits Orhan Pamuk, chronicler of its consciousness . . . His novel's subject is the difference in perceptions between East and West . . . [and] a mysterious killer... driven by mad theology. . .Pamuk is getting at a subject that has compelled modern thinkers from Heidegger to Derrida . . . My Name is Red is a meditation on authenticity and originality . . . An ambitious work on so many levels at once." (Melvin Jules Bukiet, Chicago Tribune)
"A murder mystery set in sixteenth-century Istanbul [that] uses the art of miniature illumination, much as Mann's Doctor Faustus did music, to explore a nation's soul. . . . Erdag Goknar deserves praise for the cool, smooth English in which he has rendered Pamuk's finespun sentences, passionate art appreciations, sly pedantic debates, [and] eerie urban scenes." (John Updike, The New Yorker)
John Lee is an incredible reader, and a perfect choice for this book. There are around 20 first-person narrators in the book, and Lee performs all their voices superbly, reflecting each one's individuality and unique perspective on the happenings in the novel. These characters (some not even human, like the color red) create a rich tapestry that brings to life this period in Istanbul and the Ottoman Empire, with wit and charm, rather than dry historical narration. This is not a light or easy read, but worth the effort. I found it helpful to borrow the print copy from the library, and occasionally refer to it for the names and spellings of people and places.
I was tempted by this book's description and it did not fail. Along with the murder mistory, it was an adventure in a little known world of art and its contradictions and supports of the prevailing religion as interpreted at the time. It is an interesting exploration of a variety of personalities and motivations. Running through it all is an exceptionally illustrated process of the processes involved in production of art.
If you are homophobic you may want to think twice. While not explicit there is some discussion of sexual ideas that may not be mainstream to many americans.
Lawyer, Vietnam War draftee, Peace Corps Thailand, fan of the Constitution, Science Fiction lover, work in New York City, like bodysurfing
Not an easy story for me to keep up with in the audio book form due to the Turkish names and the detailed description of Turkish and Persian miniatures and miniaturists, It is the story of a murder within the Ottoman community of court sponsored miniaturists but also an examination of the brutality of Ottoman system and the stultifying effects of an ever narrowing Islamic clerical interpretation of what kind of art is permissible. Although I found the book sometimes tedious and sometimes difficult to follow, it has stayed with since I read it. John Lee is an over-the-top narrator with his old fashioned rolling "r's" and English acting style but his seeming command of Turkish words is amazing as well as his abililty to portray different characters.
I'm a forensic psychologist living in Portsmouth NH.
Clearly, Pamuk is a great prose stylist. The book is atmospheric and exotic, and there are parts that were fascinating. But his long metaphysical discussions of the mystical elements of miniaturist painting in 16th century Istanbul are heavy going and take up much of the book. I was reminded of Moby Dick; a great book if you skip over the endless descriptions of whales. On the positive side, the narrator is one of the best I have heard.
Story is pretty fascinating, and gives a good peek at the period -- but there are a lot of very repetitive lines - gets tedious occasionally.
Everything I enjoy: art history, philosophy, great storytelling, and a beautiful voice to deliver it all.
Salman Rushdie's Enchantress of Florence - same combination of art history, philosophy, great storytelling and a beautiful voice to deliver it all!
He turns text into cinema, playing all the roles.
The details about miniature painting are seared into my memory. They have changed me.
My only complaint about the book is that it is a tough act to follow. I crave more and there are no more. I have heard other Orhan Pamuks. This one, however, was a perfect storm and I regretted its end.
My first choice is usually well-written historical fiction with interesting locations and characters.
I loved it and I didn't. Snow by Pamuk is one of my favourite books - poetic, beautifully written, intriguing and historical. However, I read Snow in print and listened to Red on audible. I liked the storyline of Red very much. I found the first person narrative interesting, however, it was easy to lose track of who's voice was being expressed. I thought the narrator had a nice voice, but found very little variance between the characters - e.g. couldn't tell the difference between the voices of Black, the protagonist, from the murderer, and the miniaturists.
I do recommend the book, with the caution that it's not an easy listen if you like to attend to the details of a story. If you like to read print as well, this is probably a book better suited to print.
I really enjoyed this slightly unconventional book. The narration was also excellent. there were 2 things that I didn't like about it. it was a little long and repetitive and it was confusing in parts.
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
"I am nothing but a corpse now, a body at the bottom of a well." So begins Orhan Pamuk's novel My Name Is Red (1998). The year is 1591, and snowy Istanbul is plagued by devalued currency, economic hardship, never-ending war, and a firebrand fundamentalist preacher who's blaming the woes on coffeehouses, dervishes, and paintings (especially those following the realistic, individual, and sacrilegious style, perspective, and portraiture of the infidel Europeans), and demanding a return to the Koran. Yet the Sultan has commissioned a secret illustrated book in the "Frankish" style to celebrate the 1000-year anniversary of the Hegira and to be an intimidating present for the Doge of Venice, impressing him with the material and spiritual power of the Ottoman Empire. And one of the miniaturists working on the book has gone missing.
When it becomes clear that the Sultan's book is involved with the artist's murder, we might recall The Name of the Rose (1980), especially because Pamuk works in to My Name Is Red so much cultural, religious, and art history and the "mystery" is not dealt with in the familiar manner of the mystery genre. Instead of hunting for a murderer, characters debate theories about art, tell parables about perception, examine exquisite illustrated books, and try to get married. Perhaps Pamuk's point is that art and love are at least as important as solving crimes.
He tells his story via an assortment of first-person narrators, including pictures with attitudes (a tree, a coin, a horse, Satan, etc.); the miniaturist colleagues of the victim (one of whom is the murderer); Esther, a Jewess "clothier-cum-matchmaker" whose true business is lovers and letters; Shekure, a beautiful, young, and probably widowed mother with two obstreperous sons; and Black, the "detective" protagonist, a secretary who has returned to Istanbul after an absence of twelve years and is tasked by his maternal uncle--Shekure's father--with investigating the artists, and so on. Some are one-chapter narrators and some reappear, like Black, who narrates at least twice as many chapters as any other character.
The characters recount and describe numerous tales and illustrations that comment on the matter of the novel. The star-crossed Persian lovers Shirin and Husrev are alluded to about 35 times. As a character says at one point, "All fables are anyone's fables." The narrators know that we are reading their words, which affords Pamuk opportunities for meta-fictional riffs on reality, stories, "truth," and so on. The novel, then, is a murder mystery and a love story enveloped in an exploration of art, including the nature of personal and cultural style, the roles of time, money, and perception, and the conflicts between innovation and tradition, individuality and universality, east and west, calligraphy and illustrations, and painting what the eyes see and painting what Allah sees.
A current of despair runs through the book, for the traditional art of the Ottoman illustrators will be superseded by that of European artists, and "every single work made in this world will vanish in fires, be destroyed by worms or be lost out of neglect." But the murderer suggests how to counter that despair: "The beauty and mystery of this world only emerge through affection, attention, interest and compassion; if you want to live in that paradise where happy mares and stallions live, open your eyes wide and actually see this world by attending to its colors, details and irony." This is the heart of Pamuk's novel, throughout which he writes what may be "seen" when you attend to the world. Thus he vividly describes the streets, buildings, denizens, and food of Istanbul, as when the murderer eats a "meat-filled cabbage dolma . . . covered . . . with yogurt and topped . . . off with handfuls of hot red pepper flakes," or as when Black first returns to Istanbul:
"An approaching ship, whose sails were being lowered, greeted me with a flutter of canvas. The color of its sails matched the leaden and foggy hue of the surface of the Golden Horn. The cypress and plane trees, the rooftops, the heartache of dusk, the sounds coming from the neighborhood below, the calls of hawkers and the cries of children playing in mosque courtyards mingled in my head and announced emphatically that, hereafter, I wouldn't be able to live anywhere but in their city. I had the sensation that my beloved's face, which had escaped me for years, might suddenly appear to me."
The novel has numerous magical moments, like when we read of deaf musicians playing lutes and mute storytellers reciting stories to accompany a master artist's simulation of blindness while painting a picture, or the murderer following Black "through the turning and twisting streets of Istanbul" and past its jinns, angels, ghosts, brigands, and dogs, or Master Osman looking at a legendary illustrated Persian book "like roaming through an exquisite palace while its inhabitants slept."
John Lee is an excellent audiobook reader, and is mostly fine here, but although his ironic manner is perfect for Satan, a murderer, a feisty dog, and proud master miniaturists, etc., it is not so well suited to earnest characters like Black and Shekure, and his distinctive rhythm started making the different narrators sound the same.
Sometimes I lost focus reading the novel, because it is talky and reiterates some ideas. And although the murderer challenges us to discover his identity by carefully reading his chapters for clues, it was impossible (for this reader anyway) to discover his identity until the climax when we learn it no thanks to careful reading.
All that said, I was caught by Esther, Shekure, Black, and the murderer; by the exotic place, culture, and time; by the details on Ottoman miniaturist illustration; and by the ideas on art, love, story, memory, and perception. Anyone interested in Istanbul, art, and love depicted in rich language should like My Name Is Red.
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