My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk, translated by Erdağ M. Göknar
Mixed in with the many death-and-destruction titles I’ve been reading the last few months, my most recent choices inadvertently seem to have an added layer of death-and-destruction-in-the-name-of-God. Too many books, regardless of genre or target audience, seem to offer irrefutable proof that the rules and regulations of religion – any major religion! – certainly have had (and continue to have) dire consequences. Supreme irony indeed.
In My Name Is Red, 2006 Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk takes on the intertwinings of religion and art during the Ottoman Empire of the late-16th century. Considered to be the novel that cemented Pamuk’s international reputation, Red is an amalgamation of art history, religious theory, philosophical exploration, love story, and murder mystery. It begins with a talking corpse at the bottom of a well … and ends with a mother’s narrative bequeathal to her younger son Orhan (!) with the warning: “For the sake of a delightful and convincing story, there isn’t a lie Orhan wouldn’t deign to tell.” [In an interview that appears on his U.S. publisher’s website, Pamuk says, “Orhan is not my alter ego, he is me. … I also kept my mother’s and brother’s names in the story.”]
Between the decaying corpse and this unreliable Orhan, multiple narrators – including a dog, a tree, a gold coin, a horse, as well as Death and Satan – take turns revealing the puzzle-piece-like chapters of a multi-faceted drama about the perils of making miniaturist art against the repressive doctrines of Islam. A master artist is dead, expunged from working further on the Sultan’s secret commission; more bloodshed is forthcoming. Death draws a man named Black home to Istanbul after 12 peripatetic years serving pashas, renewing his love for the girl of his dreams – who is also his cousin, 12 years his junior, who is now a married woman with two sons still awaiting the return of her missing husband. Only by exposing the murderer can Black hope to earn love’s consummation.
In my misplaced determination to whittle down my should-read stacks, Pamuk’s Snow and Museum of Innocence proved disappointing (although well-deserved kudos go to the ever-diligent John Lee, apparently the official Pamuk narrator). Red was certainly the better of the three, yet I remain befuddled as to its ubiquitous appeal. While these three tomes seem personally lost in translation, I confess to a fascination and appreciation for Pamuk’s entertaining metafictional self-references in each … not that I’ve ever laughed at him, but I’ll certainly remember having laughed with him. At least on the page.
Published: 2001 (United States)