My Name is Red
is truly a remarkable piece of literature written by Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk. The way the author chooses to tell the story is extraordinary—through multiple narrators, of whom many are dead, inanimate, or abstract. My Name is Red
has had an exponential growth of popularity since 1998, and over the years, the book has been translated into more than 60 different languages.
The book is set in Istanbul, capital of the Ottoman Empire, in 1591, during the empire’s most powerful reign. As the book is a commentary on religious oppression and cultural norms, the author chooses to use art as the medium in which these elements are narrated. The novel revolves around miniaturists, the painters who create Turkish book arts, using elements of Chinese art, illumination, calligraphy, and forms of detailed colors and contouring. The novel has elements of romance, mystery and murder, Turkish political conflict, and a close inspection of art and its influence on those who create it, as well as those who admire it.
As the novel begins, one of the miniaturists is murdered, a gilder of a very controversial and provocative book that is being created. Kara, or “Black,” another miniaturist, is brought back to Istanbul to investigate the murder. Enishte, Black’s maternal uncle, sends for him, as he is the writer of the secret provocative book, and he requires his nephew’s help with it, though not before Black solves the murder. Black agrees to return, not only to work on the book and investigate the murder, but, also to win the love of Enishte’s daughter, his cousin Shekure. It has been a dozen years since he has seen her, so before he begins his investigation, he attempts to see her; however, she hides from him, spying on him and her father as they speak about the book.
As Black begins the investigation, three other miniaturists, Butterfly, Stork, and Olive, are the main suspects. Meanwhile, Shekure has fallen in love with Black again, after seeing him, even if he hasn’t seen her. Hearing about the murder of the miniaturist, she decides to stop waiting for the return of her soldier husband, who has been missing for more than four years. She has three suitors: the first is one of the miniaturists, the second is Black, and the third is her brother-in-law, Hasan. She does not want to marry Hasan—when she and her husband lived with him, he was cruel to her and flirted with her inappropriately under his brother’s nose. Hasan threatens to sue her to return with him.
Back at the local coffeehouse, the three suspect miniaturists share their illustrations and the content of the book they are working on with another storyteller, who broadcasts these stories to the public. Being as the book is provocative, and creative oppression rampant in those parts, hearing the stories angers a fanatical religious group. As a result, Enishte is murdered.
Shekure, now distracted by her father’s death, decides it is important that she marry for the sake of her father, so she asks Black to help her get a divorce from her missing husband. Quickly, that same day, she and Black marry, and then they both take care of Enishte’s body, putting it to rest. Despite the fact that they are married, Shekure does not want to consummate her new marriage with Black until he investigates who murdered her father. Black, now looking for two murderers, considers that they may be the same person.
Black leaves to search for the murderer, but is interrupted by numerous setbacks—in the meantime, Shekure, now alone at home, fears that she will be killed. Thus, she reluctantly decides to go to Hasan’s house for protection, however, regrets it immediately. Black returns and helps her escape; they steal a ruby studded dagger from Hasan as they leave.
Olive is revealed to be the murderer. With help from the other two miniaturists, Black confronts him; however, Olive is too spry. As Black and Olive tussle, Olive takes the ruby studded dagger from Black and wounds him badly, escaping with the dagger. On his way out of town, Olive stops at the workshop to pick up his belongings, however, Hasan is there. Hasan sees the dagger Olive is carrying, and accuses Olive of stealing from him. He attacks Olive and cuts off his head. Fearing the consequences of this beheading, Hasan leaves town.
Shekure tends to Black’s wounds and they fall for each other all over again, finally able to live as a loving married couple. The headless body of Olive is found in the workshop; the art and the book project are shut down. With time, religion and tradition grows more popular, and the use of illustrations and paintings diminishes, giving start to their own little dark age.
Despite concluding with a dying art, My Name is Red
is a colorful story. The title refers to one of the many odd and fascinating narrators—in this case, the color red makes an appearance as a narrator for one of the chapters.
Orhan Pamuk won the Nobel Prize in literature in 2006 for this book. He has also received countless awards for various translations of this book. A beautiful piece of art, My Name is Red
presents an enthralling look into love, art, and political discourse.