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'My Name is Red': The passion of the brush

Pamuk is an intense writer, so much so that you begin to live the experiences of his characters. You enter his world which is passionate and colourful. Somehow, the 'red' in his book My Name is Red brings to my mind a dark, blood red.

The book is set in late sixteenth century Istanbul whose world-famous miniaturists are obsessively dedicated to their art. This is a world of dark workshops where the sunlight trickles in and the artists paint with hair-thin precision, slowly extinguishing their eyesight. Their dedication is so severe that a miniaturist considers himself lucky if he goes blind in old age, having given his sight to creating beautiful paintings.

As the master miniaturist Olive remarks:

To know is to remember that you've seen. To see is to know without remembering. Thus, painting is remembering the darkness.

Much like Turkish miniatures, Pamuk's characters are drawn in simple lines. Their names are irrelevant but their characters are clearly etched out. And the graveness of the situation comes to light when one of them is suspected of a gruesome murder.

What leads to the murder is a clash of ideologies. The miniaturists were increasingly under threat from the religious fanatics of Turkey, being Sufi themselves. The trigger is a secret book that is commissioned by the Sultan, rumoured to be blasphemous enough to attract the severest of punishment.

A distraught Enishte Effendi says:

In the end, our methods will die out, our colours will fade. No one will care about our books and our paintings...

The plot intensifies as the identity of the murderer slowly unravels as the narrator morphs into multiple voices - not all human. Along the way, we come to know of the darkest secrets buried in the hearts of beautiful Shekure, whom Black desires intensely.

It is hard to imagine that the delicate artists of Istanbul could hold so much venom in their hearts, to even go to the extent of killing to retain their status. But that's how they are, and we realise that, to them, their art is their very soul.

One of the most beautiful lines in the book is when Master Osman, the Head Illuminator, describes to Black a masterpiece:

Can you see the splendor in the leaves of the trees in the night-time darkness, appearing one by one as if illuminated from within like stars or spring flowers, the humble patience implied by the wall ornamentation, the refinement in the use of gold leaf and the delicate balance in the entire painting's composition?

It is with the same dedication that one must read My Name is Red. Like a journey along a grey road, one must stop to smell the flowers. One must ruminate over each phrase, hang on to every word.

Like his master miniaturists, Pamuk is a master writer - creating a fascinating work of art with his pen.

Related links:
Review of Istanbul
Article on Turkish miniatures
Book Review 2303815207883413228

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1 comment

Hill Goat said...

lovely book. nice, personalised review. The way Pamuk couches history into fiction, it reminds me of late Rahul Sankrityayan's works closer home.

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