Acclaimed Turkish writer Pamuk (The New Life, 1997, etc.) investigates two brutal murders—and offers a whimsical but provocative exploration of the nature of art in an Islamic society.
My Name is Red speaks in many voices, some more predominant than others. A dog, a tree, and a horse as well as Death, Satan, and a corpse all make eloquent contributions to the narrative, but center stage are Black the clerk, the Murderer, Esther the Jewish matchmaker, and Shekure, recently married to Black. The setting is Istanbul in the late 1500s—a period of time that saw the Ottoman Empire at its height but increasingly challenged by the innovative West. Prohibited by the Koran to paint realistic likenesses, the Islamic miniaturists of Istanbul have for centuries done stylized pictures of people, plants, and horses. Their informing belief has been that art should reflect what Allah sees from above, but when a new Sultan commissions a book from noted artist Enishte Effendi that will include a portrait of the Sultan in the Western style, reactionary artists and mullahs become alarmed. After a noted engraver and Enishte are found murdered, the Sultan demands the killer be found or all the miniaturists will be put to death. Black, Enishte’s nephew, becomes involved in the investigation. He consults with the famous miniaturist Master Osman, who senses that an era is ending and blinds himself, as well as with the artists working on the book with his late uncle Enishte. With nicknames like Butterfly, Stork, and Olive, these artists reminisce and discuss the difference between Western and Islamic art while proclaiming their innocence. Threatened with torture by the Sultan, Black finally gets his man—not to mention the respect of his new bride.
A rich feast of ideas, images, and lore.