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The Book Club

Orhan Pamuk’s My Name Is Red

1. Appreciating Orhan Pamuk’s “My Name Is Red. Reading the novel can be a tedious undertaking, especially since the reader can be overwhelmed by the number of historical references and inferences drawn by the narrators. Though the chronology provides some assistance in this regard, the respective fables and paintings can prove to be quite alien to the uninformed reader; especially those unacquainted with Islamic illustrations and their corresponding characteristics. Nevertheless, the plot development is interesting, and characterisation colourful; more importantly, constantly keeps the reader on his toes as he attempts to decipher the mystery of the murders.

2. As an ordinary reader. As an ordinary reader, I will not pretend to have completely understood the various nuances and symbolism that Pamuk has decorated his novel with. Without cross-referencing to the chronology or Internet sources, I would have struggled with the cultural and traditional touches. The book is expansive, and ploughing through the numerous chapters will not be effortless. Nonetheless, the presence of the mystery and murder element – cloaked skilfully, and engineered with a number of unforeseen twists and turns – provides for a thrilling and exciting read.

3. Narrative styles. The variance in the narrative voices provides tremendous diversity, and grants the reader in-depth perspectives into the mindsets and actions of the respective characters. Even though the plot progresses chronologically, the points of view switch quickly from one character to another; and it is interesting to note how the first-person truths vary. Through monologues, the reader gains a greater comprehension of the plans and emotions experienced especially by Black and Shekure. The revolving, succeeding narratives between Butterfly, Olive and Stork also promotes the sense of suspense, as the reader continuously seeks to identify similarities in the expressions and figures of speech between the murderer and the three miniaturists. However, the lack of proper exposition on individual characters naturally place more emphasis, and focuses the reader’s attention to the novel’s plot and main themes.

4. I am a corpse, I am a dog, I am a tree, I am a gold coin, I am Death, I am Red, I am a horse, I, Satan, We two dervishes and I am a woman. Beyond the story’s central protagonists and antagonists, Pamuk also gives inanimate objects – as well as concepts – voices through literary personification. This seems to be complementary to the novel’s plot – given that paintings and illustrations are at the very centre of the book’s focus – since well-illustrated paintings can breathe “life” into ordinary items or articles. Some of the references (I am a corpse, I am a horse, we two dervishes) serve to advance the plot by providing pieces of details to events and people, while others (I am a gold coin, I am Death, I am Red, I, Satan) provide insights to the historical happenings or developments.

5. “Through our colours, paints, art and love, we remember that Allah had commanded us to ‘See’!. Aesthetically, the illustrations of art and paintings – perceived through the eyes of individuals – form the basis for interpretation of the novel.

6. Characteristics of art and paintings. The major themes of the novel – in particular, on the elements of pictorial art – are identified overtly in the beginning, as Black pay visits to the young master miniaturists Butterfly, Olive and Stork to seek their opinions on style and signature, painting and time, as well as blindness and memory. Thereafter, throughout the novel, discussions and debates between the miniaturists and Black always go back to these three central themes, mixed with stories of Bihzad, the Mongols and the Chinese et cetera. Ultimately, the key to the mystery is revealed after Black and Master Osman spend three days in the Sultan’s treasury searching books and compilations for stylistic clues; based on the illustration of a horse found. Style emerges as the artistic representation that leads to the justification for the identification of the murderer..

7. The conflict between East and West. This seems to be a running theme throughout the novel, and the conflict provides a viable explanation for the disagreements – as well as the murders – between the talented miniaturists and illuminators. In general, select miniaturists are opposed to the purported European influences, otherwise known as the controversial aspects of the Frankish style, in the paintings for a secret book commissioned by the Ottoman Sultan. Perceiving that their counterparts were going against the traditions and conventions of the time, the opponents consider the new Frankish methods to be radical and blasphemous in nature.

8. Islamic fundamentalism. In the background, an Islamic fundamentalist cleric is on the rise, and does add to the aforementioned exposition on the purported disconnect between Eastern and Western cultures. Understanding that Islamic miniaturists premised their work upon repetition and uniformity, the Renaissance aspects of making portraits and focusing on individualisation or representations would present itself to be an invasion to the conservative methods relied upon for centuries. It seems like a battle between imitation and innovation; with particular reference to artistic production.

9. Are Pamuk’s thoughts echoed by Butterfly? “An artist should never succumb to hubris of any kind, he should simply paint the way he sees fit rather than troubling over East or West”.

10. Black and Shekure. Whether it was done on purpose or not, genuine romance seems to be an aspect that Pamuk handled quite casually. Given that the relationship between Black and Shekure is central to this, a lot of their interactions and thoughts about one another seem sexual and physical in nature; with little exposition on true romance or love. Black is constantly influenced by circumstances, as seen from his consistent need or desire for a father figure, and his supposed indecisiveness in times of tensions or conflict. He is also presented to be desperate to fulfil his unrequited love. On the other hand, Shekure is clearly bound by traditional Islamic norms through the chapters; ultimately, her marriage to Black seems to be inspired by necessity – the need for a man for the protection from Hasan, for the care of her children, companionship after the death of her father – instead of having a genuine attraction to Black.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.


One thought on “Orhan Pamuk’s My Name Is Red

  1. Indeed, My Name is Red is such a rich text that I have yet to touch all of the aspects, subtle textures and questions posed by the novel. https://karlomongaya.wordpress.com/2012/08/24/the-political-economy-of-art-in-my-name-is-red/

    Posted by karlo mikhail | September 30, 2012, 7:01 am

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