My Name Is Red

My Name Is Red

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by Orhan Pamuk, John Lee
     
 

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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

Overview

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

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Acclaimed Turkish novelist Pamuk offers this fascinating murder mystery set against the backdrop of 16th-century Istanbul. The story surrounds a sultan who commissions a book to celebrate his life and times, as well as a set of talented artists hired to recreate the work in the European style. But when one of the artists disappears, the answer to his whereabouts seems to lie in the images themselves. British narrator John Lee reads with a classical tone, drawing on his theatrical experience to create a rousing, epic, but personal reading sure to appeal to a wide range of listeners. Lee reads with such inherent skill that his words seem to be coming straight from memory, recreating Pamuk's ancient world in colorful clarity. A Knopf hardcover (Reviews, Aug. 6).
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Library Journal
In 16th-century Istanbul, master miniaturist and illuminator of books Enishte Effendi is commissioned to illustrate a book celebrating the sultan. Soon he lies dead at the bottom of a well, and how he got there is the crux of this novel. A number of narrators give testimony to what they know about the circumstances surrounding the murder. The stories accumulate and become more detailed as the novel progresses, giving the reader not only a nontraditional murder mystery but insight into the mores and customs of the time. In addition, this is both an examination of the way figurative art is viewed within Islam and a love story that demonstrates the tricky mechanics of marriage laws. Award-winning Turkish author Pamuk (The White Castle) creatively casts the novel with colorful characters (including such entities as a tree and a gold coin) and provides a palpable sense of atmosphere of the Ottoman Empire that history and literary fans will appreciate. Recommended. Marc Kloszewski, Indiana Free Lib., PA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Acclaimed Turkish writer Pamuk (The New Life, 1997, etc.) investigates two brutal murders-and offers a whimsical but provocative exploration of the nature of art in an Islamic society. "My Name is Red" speaks in many voices, some more predominant than others. A dog, a tree, and a horse as well as Death, Satan, and a corpse all make eloquent contributions to the narrative, but center stage are Black the clerk, the Murderer, Esther the Jewish matchmaker, and Shekure, recently married to Black. The setting is Istanbul in the late 1500s-a period of time that saw the Ottoman Empire at its height but increasingly challenged by the innovative West. Prohibited by the Koran to paint realistic likenesses, the Islamic miniaturists of Istanbul have for centuries done stylized pictures of people, plants, and horses. Their informing belief has been that art should reflect what Allah sees from above, but when a new Sultan commissions a book from noted artist Enishte Effendi that will include a portrait of the Sultan in the Western style, reactionary artists and mullahs become alarmed. After a noted engraver and Enishte are found murdered, the Sultan demands the killer be found or all the miniaturists will be put to death. Black, Enishte's nephew, becomes involved in the investigation. He consults with the famous miniaturist Master Osman, who senses that an era is ending and blinds himself, as well as with the artists working on the book with his late uncle Enishte. With nicknames like Butterfly, Stork, and Olive, these artists reminisce and discuss the difference between Western and Islamic art while proclaiming their innocence. Threatened with torture by the Sultan, Black finally gets his man-not tomention the respect of his new bride. A rich feast of ideas, images, and lore.
From the Publisher
“Pamuk is a novelist and a great one . . . [Readers will] be lofted by the paradoxical lightness and gaiety of the writing, by the wonderfully winding talk perpetually about to turn a corner, and by the stubborn humanity in the characters’ maneuvers to survive. It is a humanity whose lies and silences emerge as endearing and oddly bracing individual truths.” —Richard Eder, The New York Times Book Review

“A modern classic . . . Rich and essential.” —Los Angeles Times

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780739369241
Publisher:
Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/02/2008
Edition description:
Unabridged
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 5.90(h) x 1.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

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 a trace of those rivers of milk, wine, fresh water and honey described with such flourish, not in the Koran, but by visionary dreamers like Ibn Arabi. But I have no intention of tempting the faith of those who live rightly through their hopes and visions of the Otherworld, so let me declare that all I've seen relates specifically to my own very personal circumstances. Any believer with even a little knowledge of life after death would know that a malcontent in my state would be hard-pressed to see the rivers of Heaven.

In short, I, who am known as Master Elegant Effendi, am dead, but have not been interred, therefore my soul has not completely left my body. This extraordinary situation, although naturally my case is not the first, has inflicted a horrible suffering upon the immortal part of me. Though I cannot feel my crushed skull or my decomposing body covered in wounds, full of broken bones and partially submerged in ice-cold water, I do feel the deep torment of my soul struggling desperately to escape its mortal coil. It's as if the whole world, along with my body, were contracting into a bolus of anguish.

I can only compare this contraction to the surprising sense of release I felt during the unequaled moment of my death. Yes, I instantly understood that that wretch wanted to kill me when he unexpectedly struck me with a stone and cracked my skull, but I didn't believe he'd be able to follow through. I suddenly realized I was a hopeful man, something I hadn't been aware of while living my life in the shadows between workshop and household. I clung passionately to life with my nails, my fingers and my teeth, which I sank into his skin. I won't bore you with the painful details of the subsequent blows I received.

When in the course of this agony I knew I would die, an incredible feeling of relief filled me. I felt this relief during the moment of departure; my arrival to this side was soothing, like the dream of seeing oneself asleep. The snow- and mud-covered shoes of my murderer were the last things I noticed. I closed my eyes as if I were going to sleep, and I gently passed over.

My present complaint isn't that my teeth have fallen like nuts into my bloody mouth, or even that my face has been maimed beyond recognition, or that I've been abandoned in the depths of a well-it's that everyone assumes I'm still alive. My troubled soul is anguished that my family and intimates, who, yes, think of me often, imagine me engaged in some trivial business somewhere in Istanbul, or even chasing after another woman. Enough! Find my body without delay, pray for me and have me buried. Above all, find my murderer! For even if you bury me in the most magnificent of tombs, so long as that wretch remains free, I'll writhe restlessly in my grave, waiting, infecting you all with faithlessness. Find that son-of-a-whore murderer and I'll tell you in detail just what I see in the Afterlife-but know this, when he's caught, he must be tortured by slowly splintering eight or ten of his bones, preferably his ribs with a vise, before piercing his scalp with those skewers made especially for the task by torturers, and plucking out his disgusting, oily hair, strand by strand, so he shrieks each time.

Who is this murderer who vexes me so? Why has he killed me in this surprising way? Be curious and mindful of such matters. You say the world is full of base and worthless criminals? Perhaps this one did it, perhaps that one? In that case let me caution you: My death conceals an appalling conspiracy against our religion, our traditions and the way we see the world. Open your eyes, discover why the enemies of the life in which you believe, of the life you're living, and of Islam, have destroyed me. Learn why one day they might do the same to you. One by one, everything predicted by the great preacher Nusret Hoja of Erzurum, to whom I've tearfully listened, is coming to pass. Let me say also that if the situation into which we've fallen were described in a book, even the most expert of miniaturists could never hope to illustrate it. As with the Koran-God forbid I'm misunderstood-the staggering power of such a book arises from the impossibility of its being depicted. I doubt you've comprehended this fact.

Listen to me. When I was an apprentice, I too feared and thus ignored the underlying truths and the voices from beyond. I'd joke about such matters. But I've ended up in the depths of this deplorable well! It could happen to you, be wary. Now, I've nothing left to do but hope for thorough decay, so they can find me by tracing my stench. I've nothing to do but hope-and imagine the torture that some benevolent man will inflict upon that wretched murderer once he's been caught.

Meet the Author

Orhan Pamuk is the author of six 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 more than twenty languages. He lives in Istanbul.

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My Name Is Red 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 39 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am an avid reader of Orhan Pamuk, however I must say that this one is his masterpiece. My name is Red is taking us to historical labyrinths of Istanbul. His trademark 'detailed description of the characters and events' is at its best. What I like most is Pamuk usually tells his stories from different points of view. This books looks like a murder-suspense book at the first place, however page by page you start to see Islam and its philosopy from the eyes of 16th century miniaturists. What I learnt from his interviews is Pamuk could not finish writing this book for a long time and he always prefers handwriting (just like his friend, great Paul Auster). You can see his precise technique and talented storytelling page by page. Pamuk has obviously done a great research about the 16th century Istanbul and the result is awesome. I may critize the translation a little bit but I appreciate that to translate a book by O.Pamuk must be tough! My name is red is 'a must' Because of this book Pamuk got the 2003 IMPAC award. You will see his talent starting from the first chapter. Amazing, sad, humorous, brilliant. Well, do yourself a favor and purchase this one and then spare the time to read it carefully.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had just finished studying Islamic art extensively in one of my art history classes (I am an art history major) when I began reading this book. This was a great read, but I feel it would be difficult to understand for those not interested in art and religion, and particularly for those who have little background in Islamic art. If you are, however, what a great book! The detail with which the author describes the process of illuminating manuscripts and the passion the miniaturists possess for doing so is incredible and moving. The plot is intriguing and just when you think you know what's going to happen, something surprises you.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I wanted to read over and over.Sometimes makes you smile,sometimes makes you feel sad.Incredible !! Orhan Pamuk is really talented author.I'm looking forward his next book.
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I really didn't know there was so much competition between miniaturists and European art. Orhan Pamuk's books are interesting and his characters are well developed.
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