My Name is Red
“Color is the touch of the eye, music to the deaf, a word out of the darkness.”
In Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red, a group of miniaturists, their masters, and Black Effendi (nephew of one of the masters) all try to solve the murder of Elegant Effendi, another miniaturist. At the same time, each miniaturist struggles with the idea that the book they have secretly worked on for the Sultan might be heresy, and the cause of Elegant’s death. In Turkish culture, many depictions are forbidden because they are not shown from Allah’s perspective or because they might become idols.
Pamuk compiled the perspectives of almost every character to write this story, jumping fluidly from one point of view to another. He even goes so far as to recount the thoughts of a corpse, and those of a painting of Death. The murderer speaks as well, but he rarely hints at which of the other voices also belongs to him.
Pamuk emphasizes truth and sincerity in this book. The reader has to choose which of the characters to trust, using clues from the few times each person speaks to determine identity and guilt. Shekure—daughter of the man in charge of the controversial book—realizes how easy it is to sound insincere. Oftentimes she knows she is telling the truth, but feels that everything she says sounds like a lie. The murderer has the same problem, often shedding tears “which were at once genuine and false.”
What I found most interesting was the miniaturists’ discussions concerning style. The goal of these painters is to replicate the work of the old masters, leaving nothing to identify themselves—certainly not a signature. To them, “what was venerated as style was nothing more than an imperfection or flaw that revealed the guilty hand.” Yet each miniaturist is also very competitive, and wants to be distinctly better than the rest. One even goes so far as to express his desire to have a portrait painted of himself. This is also representative of a battle between East and West—should they continue painting in the ways of the Persians, or should they surrender to the ways of the Franks?
This book is amazing. It blew my mind in so many ways—I would explain, but I do not want to give away anything. There are additional explorations of sight and story, which I have not even mentioned. I would recommend this book to anybody, but it should probably not be read by anyone younger than high school age because of the more adult material.