I just completed My Name is Red last week, after 2 months of strenuous, marathon reading. And boy was it a feat. Written by Orhan Pamuk, the literary genius, the book is a daunting task to read in the beginning. The first few chapters consisted mainly of reading and re-reading. I would read past the page and then have to read again the next day because some parts of the details would have escaped my attention. That is how beautifully intricate this novel is.
Based on miniaturists in the Ottoman Empire, the novel unleashes a murder mystery right from the start. A mystery so dense, it isn’t resolved until the absolute end. And then around this intrigue, Pamuk builds the whole scenario of sixteenth century Istanbul. The characters, the drinking holes, the painting workshops, the coy maidens and the forbidden pleasures. Once you get past the first few chapters, the book pulls you in. You can feel yourself getting caught up in the culture and ambiance of ancient Istanbul and its secrets.
Since a consistent theme in this book is the religious undertones of that time, I couldn’t help but compare the viewpoints to those of today. Most of the characters claim to be staunch Muslims, verbose in the assertions of their piety, but happily ignorant of their own sins. Sounds familiar? I couldn’t help but think of the religious fanatics of today. Screaming louder and longer than their peers in order to appear the most pure, yet unable to follow the basics of any faith. Patience, peace and tolerance. The book captures the same essence of hypocrisy and a holier than thou attitude.
What fascinates me is the topic and the treatment of the story. Pamuk shuttles back and forth between different characters and their voices (at one point he adopts the voice of a tree. How’s that for genius?) in order to document different vantage points and give more depth to the character. So one minute you’re a lady, looking out a window yearningly at your lover, the next minute your a dog documenting your thoughts while watching this romantic exchange . Interesting and quite a feat. Makes you appreciate the intensity of the novel and how much effort has gone into its creation.
The rest of the novel speeds through and when it ends, you can’t help but feel a tinge of sadness. It’s as if all the characters have abandoned you and retracted back into the abyss of fiction and the past.
I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a stint beyond reality. It allows you to escape to a different era. All of a sudden you are privy to the emotions and tricks of the miniaturists of old Istanbul. You can feel their joy as they labor over a piece of art. The details they choose to insert and withhold from a painting. Who would have thought ?
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