My Name Is Red

My Name Is Red

Hardcover | August 28, 2001

byOrhan PamukTranslated byErdag Goknar

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From one of the most important and acclaimed writers at work today, a thrilling new novel—part murder mystery, part love story—set amid the perils of religious repression in sixteenth-century Istanbul.

When the Sultan commissions a great book to celebrate his royal self and his extensive dominion, he directs Enishte Effendi to assemble a cadre of the most acclaimed artists in the land. 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, and no one in the elite circle can know the full scope or nature of the project.
Panic erupts when one of the chosen miniaturists disappears, and the Sultan demands answers within three days. The only clue to the mystery—or crime?—lies in the half-finished illuminations themselves. Has an avenging angel discovered the blasphemous work? Or is a jealous contender for the hand of Enishte’s ravishing daughter, the incomparable Shekure, somehow to blame?

Orhan Pamuk’s My Name Is Red is at once a fantasy and a philosophical puzzle, a kaleidoscopic journey to the intersection of art, religion, love, sex, and power.

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My Name Is Red

Hardcover | August 28, 2001
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From the Publisher

From one of the most important and acclaimed writers at work today, a thrilling new novel—part murder mystery, part love story—set amid the perils of religious repression in sixteenth-century Istanbul.When the Sultan commissions a great book to celebrate his royal self and his extensive dominion, he directs Enishte Effendi to assemble ...

From the Jacket

From one of the most important and acclaimed writers at work today, a thrilling new novel--part murder mystery, part love story--set amid the perils of religious repression in sixteenth-century Istanbul. When the Sultan commissions a great book to celebrate his royal self and his extensive dominion, he directs Enishte Effendi to assemb...

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.

interview with the author

A Conversation with

Orhan Pamuk
author of

My Name Is Red

Q. You have used the rather unusual device of telling this story through many narrators. In fact, no two consecutive chapters are in the same voice. Why did you structure the novel this way? What challenges did this structure present?
A. It was so much fun to impersonate my characters! I enjoyed finding the voice of a sixteenth century ottoman miniaturist, a mother of two children who is looking for a husband, the voice of her kids, the demonic voice of a murderer, and the narrative of a dead man on his way to heaven. Not only my characters speak in my story but objects and colors as well. I thought all these distinctive voices would produce a rich music—the texture of daily life in Istanbul four hundred years ago. These shifts in viewpoint also reflect the novel’s main concern about looking at the world from our point of view versus the point of view of a supreme being. All of this is related to the use of perspective in painting; my characters line in a world where the restrictions of perspective do not exist so they speak in their own voice with their own humor.

Q. One of the characters—the younger son of your heroine Shekure—is called Orhan. Is he your alter ego?
A. Orhan is not my alter ego; he is me. Most of the details and some of the anecdotes of the lonely mother and her son’s relationship are derived from my own experience. I also kept my mother’s and brother’s names in the story. The rivalry between the brothers, their constant quarrels, fights, and their negotiations about peace and jealousy of their mother are autobiographical. By carrying the details of my childhood into my historical novel, I hoped to give it a personal dimension.

The challenge of a historical novel is not to render a perfect imitation of the past, but to relate history with something new, enrich and change it with imagination and sensuousness of personal experience.

Q. What kind of research did you have to do to write a novel of such rich historical detail?
A. It took me six years to write this book. Of course, I spent a lot of time reading books and looking at picture, but I rarely thought that of it as "research." I’ve always enjoyed what I was reading and I read what I enjoyed. Ottomans were great record keepers and the records of the governor of Istanbul were well kept and published. So, for hours I used to read the prices of various clothes, carpers, fish or vegetables in Istanbul markets in a given year. This led to interesting discoveries; for example, I learned that barbers also performed circumcisions or pulled teeth for the right prices.

As for researching the paintings, that was more personal because beginning at the age of six, I’ve always thought that I would be a painter. When I was a kid I used to copy the Ottoman miniature that I came across in books. Later, I was influenced by Western painting and stopped painting when I was twenty when I began writing fiction.

Q. Could you explain the paradox of the miniaturist who achieves the heights of greatness only by going blind.
A. The paradox here is based on a very reasonable train of thought: If you were a medieval painter, your craft would be based on imitation and repetition (not on originality as is so often now claimed). The more you imitate and repeat, the more perfect you are. After years of painting and re-painting the same scenes and subjects, my painters’ begin to memorize. These are the beginning of the idea that a master painter does not need to see what he creates.

Q. Does the conflict between the Islamic painting aesthetic and the Western one have significance for you beyond the historical one? Are you trying to suggest something about two very distinct ways of viewing the world?
A. To be influenced by the western ways of portraiture is a dilemma for the traditional Islamic painter who is devoted to repetition and purification of traditional forms. Beyond this lie two different ways of seeing, painting, and even representing the world. One is that of seeing the world through the eyes of any individual person—looking at things from our humble point of view. The other is seeing the world through God’s eyes, from high above as the Islamic painters did, and perceiving the totality of, say a battle from above. The latter is more like seeing with the mind’s eye, rather than the eye itself.

I tried to tell my story in the manner of these Persian masters. These two distinctive ways of seeing the world and narrating stories are of course related to our cultures, histories, and what is now popularly called identities. How much are they in conflict? In my novel they even kill each other because of this conflict between east and west. But, of course, the reader, I hope, realizes that I do not believe in this conflict. All good art comes from mixing things from different roots and cultures, and I hope My Name is Red illustrates just that.

Q. Who are some of the writers and artists who have influenced you?

A. I am forty-eight, and at this age the idea of influence makes me nervous. I’d rather say that I learn and pick-up things from other authors. I’ve learned from Thomas Mann that the key to pleasures of historical fiction is the secret are of combining details. Italo Calvino taught me that inventiveness is as important as history itself. From Eco, I’ve learned that the form of the murder mystery can be gracefully used. But I have learned most from Marguerite Yoursenar; she wrote a brilliant essay about the tone and language in historical fiction.

What inspired me most for My Name is Red were the Islamic miniatures. Thousands of little details from countless miniatures that I’ve looked at took their place in the novel. Behind these scenes of love and war lie the classical Islamic texts because the miniatures were always drawn to illustrate the best scenes of stories that once upon a time everyone knew by heart and today, because of westernization, very few remember. My Name is Red is a homage to these forgotten stories and the wonderful pictures drawn for book lovers of the time.

Q. Your book had the largest first print run of any novel ever published in Turkey. How does that make you feel, and why do you think this novel had such broad appeal? How do you think the American audience will respond to this novel?
A. When a book sells that much in my part of the world the journalists always ask questions about the mysteries of the sales rather than the mysteries of the text. I always say that I do not know why the book sells that much. I cannot predict the response of the American reader either. But I always worry about such matters…Then, of course, I feel guilty about my worldly worries.

other books by Orhan Pamuk

A Strangeness In My Mind: A Novel
A Strangeness In My Mind: A Novel

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Istanbul: Memories And The City
Istanbul: Memories And The City

Paperback|Jul 11 2006

$18.33 online$19.95list price(save 8%)
The Museum Of Innocence
The Museum Of Innocence

Paperback|Oct 5 2010

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see all books by Orhan Pamuk
Format:HardcoverDimensions:448 pages, 9.55 × 6.5 × 1.39 inPublished:August 28, 2001Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0375406956

ISBN - 13:9780375406959

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Reviews

Extra Content

Read from the Book

Chapter 1I Am a CorpseI 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.

Bookclub Guide

A Conversation withOrhan Pamukauthor of My Name Is RedQ. You have used the rather unusual device of telling this story through many narrators. In fact, no two consecutive chapters are in the same voice. Why did you structure the novel this way? What challenges did this structure present?A. It was so much fun to impersonate my characters! I enjoyed finding the voice of a sixteenth century ottoman miniaturist, a mother of two children who is looking for a husband, the voice of her kids, the demonic voice of a murderer, and the narrative of a dead man on his way to heaven. Not only my characters speak in my story but objects and colors as well. I thought all these distinctive voices would produce a rich music—the texture of daily life in Istanbul four hundred years ago. These shifts in viewpoint also reflect the novel’s main concern about looking at the world from our point of view versus the point of view of a supreme being. All of this is related to the use of perspective in painting; my characters line in a world where the restrictions of perspective do not exist so they speak in their own voice with their own humor. Q. One of the characters—the younger son of your heroine Shekure—is called Orhan. Is he your alter ego? A. Orhan is not my alter ego; he is me. Most of the details and some of the anecdotes of the lonely mother and her son’s relationship are derived from my own experience. I also kept my mother’s and brother’s names in the story. The rivalry between the brothers, their constant quarrels, fights, and their negotiations about peace and jealousy of their mother are autobiographical. By carrying the details of my childhood into my historical novel, I hoped to give it a personal dimension. The challenge of a historical novel is not to render a perfect imitation of the past, but to relate history with something new, enrich and change it with imagination and sensuousness of personal experience. Q. What kind of research did you have to do to write a novel of such rich historical detail?A. It took me six years to write this book. Of course, I spent a lot of time reading books and looking at picture, but I rarely thought that of it as "research." I’ve always enjoyed what I was reading and I read what I enjoyed. Ottomans were great record keepers and the records of the governor of Istanbul were well kept and published. So, for hours I used to read the prices of various clothes, carpers, fish or vegetables in Istanbul markets in a given year. This led to interesting discoveries; for example, I learned that barbers also performed circumcisions or pulled teeth for the right prices. As for researching the paintings, that was more personal because beginning at the age of six, I’ve always thought that I would be a painter. When I was a kid I used to copy the Ottoman miniature that I came across in books. Later, I was influenced by Western painting and stopped painting when I was twenty when I began writing fiction. Q. Could you explain the paradox of the miniaturist who achieves the heights of greatness only by going blind. A. The paradox here is based on a very reasonable train of thought: If you were a medieval painter, your craft would be based on imitation and repetition (not on originality as is so often now claimed). The more you imitate and repeat, the more perfect you are. After years of painting and re-painting the same scenes and subjects, my painters’ begin to memorize. These are the beginning of the idea that a master painter does not need to see what he creates. Q. Does the conflict between the Islamic painting aesthetic and the Western one have significance for you beyond the historical one? Are you trying to suggest something about two very distinct ways of viewing the world?A. To be influenced by the western ways of portraiture is a dilemma for the traditional Islamic painter who is devoted to repetition and purification of traditional forms. Beyond this lie two different ways of seeing, painting, and even representing the world. One is that of seeing the world through the eyes of any individual person—looking at things from our humble point of view. The other is seeing the world through God’s eyes, from high above as the Islamic painters did, and perceiving the totality of, say a battle from above. The latter is more like seeing with the mind’s eye, rather than the eye itself. I tried to tell my story in the manner of these Persian masters. These two distinctive ways of seeing the world and narrating stories are of course related to our cultures, histories, and what is now popularly called identities. How much are they in conflict? In my novel they even kill each other because of this conflict between east and west. But, of course, the reader, I hope, realizes that I do not believe in this conflict. All good art comes from mixing things from different roots and cultures, and I hope My Name is Red illustrates just that. Q. Who are some of the writers and artists who have influenced you?A. I am forty-eight, and at this age the idea of influence makes me nervous. I’d rather say that I learn and pick-up things from other authors. I’ve learned from Thomas Mann that the key to pleasures of historical fiction is the secret are of combining details. Italo Calvino taught me that inventiveness is as important as history itself. From Eco, I’ve learned that the form of the murder mystery can be gracefully used. But I have learned most from Marguerite Yoursenar; she wrote a brilliant essay about the tone and language in historical fiction. What inspired me most for My Name is Red were the Islamic miniatures. Thousands of little details from countless miniatures that I’ve looked at took their place in the novel. Behind these scenes of love and war lie the classical Islamic texts because the miniatures were always drawn to illustrate the best scenes of stories that once upon a time everyone knew by heart and today, because of westernization, very few remember. My Name is Red is a homage to these forgotten stories and the wonderful pictures drawn for book lovers of the time.Q. Your book had the largest first print run of any novel ever published in Turkey. How does that make you feel, and why do you think this novel had such broad appeal? How do you think the American audience will respond to this novel?A. When a book sells that much in my part of the world the journalists always ask questions about the mysteries of the sales rather than the mysteries of the text. I always say that I do not know why the book sells that much. I cannot predict the response of the American reader either. But I always worry about such matters…Then, of course, I feel guilty about my worldly worries.

Editorial Reviews

"It is neither passion nor homicide that makes Pamuk's latest, My Name is Red, the rich and essential book that it is. . . . It is Pamuk's rendering of the intense life of artists negotiating the devilishly sharp edge of Islam 1,000 years after its brith that elevates My Name is Red to the rank of modern classic. . . . To read Pamuk is to be steeped in a paradox that precedes our modern-day feuds beteween secularism and fundamentalism."--Jonathan Levi, Los Angeles Times Book Review"Straddling the Dardanelles sits the city of Istanbul . . . and in that city sits Orhan Pamuk, chronicler of its consciousness . . . His novel's subject is the difference in perceptions between East and West . . . [and] a mysterious killer... driven by mad theology. . .Pamuk is getting at a subject that has compelled modern thinkers from Heidegger to Derrida . . . My Name is Red is a meditation on authenticity and originality . . . An ambitious work on so many levels at once."--Melvin Jules Bukiet, Chicago Tribune"Most enchanting . . . Playful, intellectually challenging, with an engaging love story and a full canvas of memorable characters, My Name is Red is a novel many, many people will enjoy."--David Walton, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel"Intensely exhilarating . . . Arresting and provocative . . . To say that Orhan Pamuk's new novel, My Name is Red, is a murder mystery is like saying that Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov is a murder mystery: it is true, but the work so richly transcends the conventional limitations of genre as to make the definition seem almost irrelevant. . . . The techniques of classical Islamic literature are used to anchor the book within a tradition of local narrative, but they can also be used with a wonderfully witty and distancing lightness of touch . . . All the exuberance and richly descriptive detail of a nineteenth-century European novel . . . The technique of Pamuk's novel proclaims that he himself is a magnificently accomplished hybrid artist, able to take from Eastern and Western traditions with equal ease and flair . . . Formally brilliant, witty, and about serious matters . . . It conveys in a wholly convincing manner the emotional, cerebral, and physical texture of daily life, and it does so with great compassion, generosity, and humanity . . . An extraordinary achievement." --Dick Davis, Times Literary Supplement, UK"My Name is Red is a fabulously rich novel, highly compelling . . . This pivotalbook, which absorbed Pamuk through the 1990s, could conclusively establish him as one of the world's finest living writers."--Guy Mannes-Abbott, The Independent, UK "A murder mystery set in sixteenth-century Istanbul [that] uses the art of miniature illumination, much as Mann's 'Doctor Faustus' did music, to explore a nation's soul. . . . Erdag Goknar deserves praise for the cool, smooth English in which he has rendered Pamuk's finespun sentences, passionate art appreciations, sly pedantic debates, [and] eerie urban scenes."--John Updike, The New Yorker"Pamuk is a novelist and a great one...My Name is Red is by far the grandest and most astonishing contest in his internal East-West war...It is chock-full of sublimity and sin...The story is told by each of a dozen characters, and now and then by a dog, a tree, a gold coin, several querulous corpses and the color crimson ('My Name is Red')...[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, New York Times Book Review"The interweaving of human and philosophical intrigue is very much as I remember it in The Name of the Rose, as is the slow, dense beginning and the relentless gathering of pace . . . But, in my view, his book is by far the better of the two. I would go so far as to say that Pamuk achieves the very thing his book implies is impossible . . . More than any other book I can think of, it captures not just Istanbul's past and present contradictions, but also its terrible, timeless beauty. It's almost perfect, in other words. All it needs is the Nobel Prize."--Maureen Freely, New Statesman, UK"A perfect example of Pamuk's method as a novelist, which is to combine literary trickery with page-turning readability . . . As a meditation on art, in particular, My Name is Red is exquisitely subtle, demanding and repaying the closest attention . . We in the West can only feel grateful that such a novelist as Pamuk exists, to act as a bridge between our culture and that of a heritage quite as rich as our own."--Tom Holland, Daily Telegraph, UK"Readers . . . will find themselves lured into a richly described and remarkable world . . . Reading the novel is like being in a magically exotic dream . . .Splendidly enjoyable and rewarding . . . A book in which you can thoroughly immerse yourself."--Allan Massie, The Scotsman, UK"A wonderful novel, dreamy, passionate and august, exotic in the most original and exciting way. Orhan Pamuk is indisputably a major novelist." --Philip Hensher, The Spectator, UK"[In this] magnificent new novel... Pamuk takes the reader into the strange and beautiful world of Islamic art,in which Western notions no longer make sense .... In this world of forgeries, where some might be in danger of losing their faith in literature, Pamuk is the real thing, and this book might well be one of the few recent works of fiction that will be remembered at the end of this century."--Avkar Altinel, The Observer, UK