Tuesday, November 27, 2007 by Abhinav
Author:- Orhan Pamuk
Translator:- Erdağ M. Göknar
Publisher:- Random House
ISBN Number:- 0-375-70685-2
Price:- US $ 14.95/Canada $ 22.95/Rs. 220
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. And when one of the master miniaturists disappears, the only clue to the mystery lies in the half-finished illuminations themselves. Part fantasy and part philosophical puzzle, My Name Is Red is a kaleidoscopic journey into the introspection of art, religion, love, sex, and power.
The novel recounts the story of four master miniaturists engaged at the royal atelier in the creation of a commemorative story in verse, the Book Of Festivities to mark the thousandth anniversary of the Hegira. Their work is to illustrate and embellish the book in the Venetian style making use of the techniques of perspective and idolatry, which were at the time deemed an affront to Islam. When one of the master miniaturists protests, he is found killed at the bottom of a well. The quest for the killer played against the backdrop of sixteenth-century Istanbul and the tragic courtship of Black, a miniaturist and Shekure, Enishte Effendi’s daughter make for a compelling read.
Like all great novels, the unraveling mystery becomes a metaphor for the unfolding of human spirit and conscience. However, what is most remarkable about Pamuk and what sets him apart from his coevals is the extent of scholarship and omniscience that he commands. It places him as a Turkish master in the cohorts of Dickens, Proust and Mann - arguably the greatest writers of English, French and German respectively. Incidentally, Mann himself won the Nobel in 1929 for The Motion Mountain.
Though the theme of the novel concentrates on the philosophical questions of the need and importance of style and signature in the arts of painting and illustration, Pamuk manages to lighten the mood by using the motifs of Nusret Hoja and the upcoming coffeehouse. The latter is depicted as the cynosure of all depravity where dervishes dance late into the night and blasphemous stories are retold in a bid to pollute people’s minds.
Each book has its moments, and this novel is no exception. Perhaps the most poignant moment is the one when Master Osman, the head miniaturist of the royal atelier, cloyed by the sight of the most perfect of all paintings in the royal treasury, blinds himself with the same plume needle that the master of masters Bihzad had once used to blind himself. Also Nizami’s tale of Husrev and Shirin has been evoked a countless number of times, and to good use.
Pamuk manages to concoct a wonderful fantasy hemmed by melancholy and tragedy in a way nobody has ever done before. It is ironic that Pamuk who secretly advocates the futility of style in the book has inadvertently ended up creating a very realistic, spartan and distinct style all his own.