My Name Is Red is a mélange of both artistic devotion and meditation on love. It also potently portrays the simmering tensions between East and West.
This novel, written by the prolific Turkish novelist, Orhan Pamuk, is based in Istanbul, in the late 16th century. The sultan of the Ottoman Empire commissions a great book which would entail all the glories and accomplishments of both his life and his empire. One of the miniaturist, hired to emulate the European manner to illuminate the book along with illustration, gets killed.
The thrilling suspense that ensues is gripping; as the writer takes us into the labyrinthine of explications of the mystery behind the murder which, inter alia, entails professional rivalry, jealously and religious tensions.
This tome, written in poetic prose, is also an illuminating source of love insight. When Black, one of the main protagonists, returns to Istanbul after an interminable period of 12 years; he longs to see his lover, Shekure, his cousin, whose father had rejected his proposal for her, which made Black to move to Persia.
Shekure had, in the meanwhile, married to a soldier who had gone to a battle to never return. When she happens to know that his former lover’s return; Shekure slink away a letter to Black through Esther, a Jewish vendor-cum marriage-maker, proposing the former to get to the pomegranate tree across her house.
“…Where was the pomegranate tree? Was it this thin, melancholy tree here? Yes… Just as I was thinking those thoughts, the window’s iced-over shutters opened with a loud burst, as if they had exploded, and after twelve years, I saw my beloved’s stunning face among snowy branches… was my dark-eyed beloved looking at me or at another life beyond me. I could not tell whether she was sad or smiling or smilingly sad…”
The traces of Dostoevsky can easily be discerned from his portrayal of the characters. The self-justifications of the murderer to appease his conscience and efface any self-doubt make one reminisce the Raskolikoff of the ‘Crime and Punishment’.
This novel of Orhan Pamuk, written in first person, is all in all a thrilling suspense, replete with insightful aphorisms, a genuine meditation on love, not to mention a cogent manifestation of a writer’s knack of transforming any humdrum activity into a squib that enthrall us. Experience this, “…And what agony it is to know that I am the only person in the world who likes me. As I cry in my solitude, only you, who hears my sobs and moans, can come to my aid…”