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
Meshing the tropes of the tavern storyteller with the recent fashion for historical mysteries ( 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.