Today I will discuss the latest classic I read, namely Orhan Pamuk and his My name is red.
My name is red starts presenting an unknown dark era, which we find out to be late 16th century, where people in old Istanbul live by the rules given to them by their religion, Islam, their habits, and their passion for art. We are introduced in a world full of love for the art: the miniaturists are the era’s painters, the most valued art creators in the oriental world. They paint, color, representing various mythical, religious or present day scenes.
During the novel we are presented with a love story between Shekure, a woman with two children, with a husband missing on the war front, who rejoins with Black, a man who was in love with her when she was a child, 12 years before, and has returned to Istanbul to seek out a family and his lost love. Sekure wants a new father for her kids, but does not want to leave her father alone, and is torn between her obligation to return to her husband’s house, where her father in law and her brother in law want her back, although her brother in law Hakan tried to abuse her; and the possibility of marrying Black, who desperately fancies her for so long time, and may be willing to accept all her needs: stay with her old father, take care of her kids, provide her with protection and financial support.
In the same time, a murder takes place in the miniaturists’ hansa: one of them becomes a killer, because of the changes that come to the Middle East from Europe: perspective techniques, portrait paintings, are things that the ottoman artists never saw before and consider to be out of line from the old masters’ ways. Here a very beautiful conflict is depicted between the old ways and the new ways: young people tend to try the new techniques from the Europe’s artists, while older people blame them for selling themselves for money and creating cult objects out of their portraits. Even though the dilemma may be outdated for our times, the interesting fact is that the conflict between the generations has and will always be present in our lives.
The murder raises a storm in the hansa, and the Uncle, Sekure’s father, who was charged by the Padishah himself to create an unique book of miniature, is also killed. The struggle begins for Shekure, who is now found alone with her 4 year old boys, with no man to protect her, torn between the two men who desire her, in an age where women are not treated as equal to men, but who do have enough power to manipulate men in order to get what they would desire. Shekure is a master in this art, and convinces Black to bribe the authorities in making her a free woman, consequently acknowledging her husband’s death, and making Black her new husband. All this in one day.
The murder though cannot remain unpunished, and Black, together with the Master of miniaturists, face a greater challenge, the one to find the murderer in the hansa, by determining which of them painted a specific horse nostril, as each of the miniaturists has a certain drawing mark.
The guilty is found, Shekure must face the rage of Hasan, and come to her new husband, being unable to push out her will directly. Black must face everyone: his new wife denies him herself until the killer has been found, and imposes her word onto him, he must face the authorities and torture to prove himself innocent of the Uncle’s death, he must face Hasan to stop him from taking his new wife, towards which Hasan considers her his property.
The Master of miniaturists must face his imminent death, because his hansa has been corrupted, unless he finds the killer, which he knows he is incapable to find. He blinds himself intentionally, such that he is proven a great master: long years of miniature work always left the greatest masters blind, so he cannot miss this opportunity of respect and recognition.
The Uncle faces death, in a project that has been far too greater for himself, but he leaves his daughter and his new son in law to complete the masterpiece.
The killer finds his death at the hand of Hasan, although he mortally wounds Black, crippling him for life, but receiving the divine punishment.
My name is red is a marvelous book, who presents so many themes of the 16th Islamic and ottoman society, such that it’s even hard to begin counting: the condition of family, the condition of marriage, the condition of slavery, the condition of feminism and woman in society, the corruption of the state authorities, the respect for the Padishah leader, the miniaturist way of life and myths, ottoman legends like Husrev and Shirin legend.
A true painting of the society is done in this novel, strangely written from alternating perspectives, a love story, a murder story, a police story, all depicted with joy for life, art, love, and beautiful.