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My Name Is Red
Cover of My Name Is Red
My Name Is Red
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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, from one of the most prominent contemporary Turkish writers.
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 Erda M Göknar
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, from one of the most prominent contemporary Turkish writers.
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 Erda M Göknar
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  • Chapter 1

    I Am a Corpse

    I am nothing but a corpse now, a body at the bottom of a well. Although I drew my last breath long ago and my heart has stopped beating, no one, apart from that vile murderer, knows what's happened to me. As for that wretch, he felt for my pulse and listened for my breath to be sure I was dead, then kicked me in the midriff, carried me to the edge of the well, raised me up and dropped me below. As I fell, my head, which he had smashed with a stone, broke apart; my face, my forehead and cheeks, were crushed; my bones shattered, and my mouth filled with blood.

    For nearly four days I have been missing: My wife and children must be searching for me; my daughter, spent from crying, must be staring fretfully at the courtyard gate. Yes, I know they're all at the window, hoping for my return.

    But, are they truly waiting? I can't even be sure of that. Maybe they've gotten used to my absence-how dismal! For here, on the other side, one gets the feeling that one's former life persists. Before my birth there was infinite time, and after my death, inexhaustible time. I never thought of it before: I'd been living luminously between two eternities of darkness.

    I was happy; I realize now that I'd been happy. I made the best illuminations in Our Sultan's workshop; no one could rival my mastery. Through the work I did privately, I earned nine hundred silver coins a month, which, naturally, only makes all this even harder to bear.

    I was responsible for painting and embellishing books. I illuminated the edges of pages, coloring their borders with the most lifelike designs of leaves, branches, roses, flowers and birds. I painted scalloped Chinese-style clouds, clusters of overlapping vines and forests of color that hid gazelles, galleys, sultans, trees, palaces, horses and hunters. In my youth, I would decorate a plate, or the back of a mirror, or a chest, or at times, the ceiling of a mansion or of a Bosphorus manor, or even, a wooden spoon. In later years, however, I applied myself only to manuscript pages because Our Sultan paid well for them. I can't say it seems insignificant now. You know the value of money even when you're dead.

    After hearing the miracle of my voice, you might think, "Who cares what you earned when you were alive? Tell us what you can see. Is there life after death? Where's your soul? What about Heaven and Hell? What is death like? Are you in pain?" You're right, people are extremely curious about the Afterlife. Maybe you've heard the story of the man who was so driven by this curiosity that he roamed among soldiers in battlefields. He sought a man who had died and returned to life amid the wounded struggling for their lives in pools of blood, a soldier who could tell him about the secrets of the Otherworld. But one of Tamerlane's warriors, taking the seeker for one of the enemy, cleared him in half with a smooth stroke of his scimitar, causing him to conclude that in the Hereafter man is split in two.

    Nonsense! Quite the opposite, I'd even allege that souls divided in life merge in the Hereafter. Contrary to the claims of sinful infidels who have fallen under the sway of the Devil, there is indeed another world, thank God, and the proof is that I am speaking to you from here. I've died, but as you can plainly tell, I haven't ceased to be. Granted, I must confess, I haven't encountered the rivers flowing beside the silver and gold kiosks of Heaven, the broad-leaved trees bearing plump fruit and the beautiful virgins mentioned in the Glorious Koran-though I do very well recall how often and enthusiastically I made pictures of those wide-eyed houris described in the chapter "That Which Is Coming." Nor is there...

About the Author-
  • Orhan Pamuk is the author of seven novels and the recipient of major Turkish and international literary awards. He is one of Europe's most prominent novelists, and his work has been translated into twenty-six languages. He lives in Istanbul.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from August 6, 2001
    Meshing the tropes of the tavern storyteller with the recent fashion for historical mysteries (à la The Name of the Rose
    and An Instance of the Fingerpost), Pamuk's novel could cause a sensation here, just as it did in his native Turkey. Set in the 16th century, at the tipping point when the Ottoman Empire was being transformed from the world's most feared superpower into an imperial backwater, Pamuk's story works on three levels. As a murder mystery, it asks who killed a gilder named Elegant, employed by an atelier of miniaturists, and then Enishte, the man who was funding the atelier? On another level, this is a story of ideas. In coffeehouses frequented by poets and artists, the backwash from the European Renaissance is starting to call into question fundamental principle of Islamic culture. Enishte, in particular, has become enamored of the perspectival method favored by Venetian painters, and wants his artists to achieve a comparable representation of reality, rather than abiding by traditional rules of representation. Pamuk not only immerses us in this debate; he makes the pictures of dogs, Satan, gold coins, etc., "talk," imitating the shadow-play method of traveling storytellers. His own ability to draw stunning pictures makes Istanbul as grimly vivid as Raskolnikov's St. Petersburg. On the third level, this is a love story. Black, a clerk and Enishte's nephew, must win Enishte's beautiful daughter, the widowed Shekure. The book's jeweled prose and alluring digressions, nesting stories within stories, make one want to say of Pamuk what one of the characters says of the head of the miniaturists' coterie, Osman: "...God had blessed him with an enchanting artistic gift and the intellect of a jinn." Widely respected abroad for his previous novels, The White Castle
    and The New Life, Pamuk should gain new readers here with this more accessible, charming and intellectually satisfying, narrative. (Sept. 6)Forecast:An irresistible jacket, vibrant with strong colors and an Islamic patterns, will lure browsers. Critical coverage should alert discriminating readers, and if there's handselling passion from booksellers, this could be Pamuk's breakout book.

  • Jonathan Levi, Los Angeles Times Book Review "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."
  • Melvin Jules Bukiet, Chicago Tribune "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."
  • David Walton, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "Most enchanting . . . Playful, intellectually challenging, with an engaging love story and a full canvas of memorable characters, My Name is Red is a novel many, many people will enjoy."
  • Guy Mannes-Abbott, The Independent, UK "My Name is Red is a fabulously rich novel, highly compelling . . . This pivotal
    book, which absorbed Pamuk through the 1990s, could conclusively establish him as one of the world's finest living writers."
  • John Updike, The New Yorker "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."
  • Allan Massie, The Scotsman, UK "Readers . . . will find themselves lured into a richly described and remarkable world . . . Reading the novel is like being in a magically exotic dream . . .Splendidly enjoyable and rewarding . . . A book in which you can thoroughly immerse yourself."
  • Philip Hensher, The Spectator, UK "A wonderful novel, dreamy, passionate and august, exotic in the most original and exciting way. Orhan Pamuk is indisputably a major novelist."
  • Avkar Altinel, The Observer, UK "[In this] magnificent new novel... Pamuk takes the reader into the strange and beautiful world of Islamic art,in which Western notions no longer make sense .... In this world of forgeries, where some might be in danger of losing their faith in literature, Pamuk is the real thing, and this book might well be one of the few recent works of fiction that will be remembered at the end of this century."
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