My Name is Red – Orhan Pamuk

Pre-Book Ramblings

Despite the picture above, My Name is Red is not my typical summer read. Usually summer means vacations, easy reads, breezing through the pages and that kind of thing. I had this book for a long time, possibly even more than two years. I picked it up back then, hoping to appear smart and impress people, because the author, Orhan Pamuk, won a Nobel Prize in literature in 2006. I gave up reading it more than twice. For me, this book was really hard to get into.

And then, this summer, I was somewhat in the mood to read something heavy (and I wanted to read the unread books laying around my bookshelf) so I took up the challenge again. This time I’m determined to finish it! As you see, I sometimes fell asleep after 15 minutes of reading (although that turns out to be quite relaxing ;)).

The Book

The first chapter of My Name is Red started very interestingly with: “I am a Corpse” and then went on describing the world from the corpse’s perspective. Very intriguing. And there’s also the perspective of a tree, a dog, a coin (this one was especially funny), and the color red, which give you some sort of understanding on the title.

It was a beautifully written book and filled with elaborate descriptions. I’m not a fan of descriptive books but Orhan Pamuk managed to do it in an unexpected way, saying things that I couldn’t even imagined being said to describe something before. But the book progressed quite slow. I only realized this book was not just about romance but also about murder mystery, when I’m at page 100ish (book is 500 pages long). I know it should be obvious being the first chapter was a corpse, but somehow I thought it was “just” a description *ouch*. I also felt that after a while, I got really overwhelmed with all the details and the new characters to keep track of. I almost gave up again.

Then I realized something. My Name is Red is about Ottoman Empire’s miniaturists in the 16th century, people who painted illuminated manuscripts with painstaking details (to the point of blinding themselves). Both “Miraj” and “Khusraw Discovers Shirin Bathing in a Pool” were examples of the work.

Miraj by Sultan Muhammad
Khusraw Discovers Shirin Bathing in a Pool by Nizami

Compared to those, the same period of Italian Renaissance were taking forms in a different way, like in these two paintings (click on the pictures for bigger sizes).

Assunta, by Tiziano Vecelli
Jupiter and Io, by Correggio
Jupiter and Io, by Correggio

Notice the difference between those two sets? The lack of depth and perspective on the first set made it harder for the eyes to focus on the important events. I’m not saying one is better than the other, my point was just that we’re used to things with depth now, it’s harder to digest things without them. The book kind of feels like that too, with everything being described in great detail, it’s like looking at a delicate painting without knowing where to focus. Once I realized this, I decided to read it in a different way. I would just soak in the details and taking breaks to digest it. This way of describing things turned out to be very appropriate for the subject.

Surprisingly to me, in the end, the story itself became somewhat less important than the details. I did find myself kind of rooting for the romance to happen, but I didn’t really care about the murderer. It’s really weird, actually, because I usually wouldn’t want to finish the book in such case. But I did.

The Verdict

I think I like the book because it intrigued me. It’s a great book and the author made me think I could never be able to write like that. Ever. (But it’s alright). It might even be amazing because it opened new ways of looking at things. I also liked how the story felt honest, it felt real to the time frame, and also it was not afraid to raise issues sensitive to Islam (which is the main religion in Ottoman Empire).

Would I recommend this book? Depends, but you should read it only if you really want to read it. Okay, perhaps if you love descriptions and history, it has really excellent details of the lives of miniaturists and the Ottoman Empire. I haven’t came across other books on this subject. So, yes, if you decide to read the book, do it. And persist.

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  1. JoV July 14, 2012 at 11:37 am

    Wonderful review! I have this planned for this year and will keep reading your reviews to keep me motivated to pick this book up.
    “it’s like looking at a delicate painting without knowing where to focus.” I love the analogy on the painting you described, I do easily get distracted but like you said you have to want to read it and then so persist.
    Inspiring post, at the same time daunting task ahead to want to read this book.

    1. astrid July 14, 2012 at 4:17 pm

      Thanks! For me, the trick was just to keep going because I know if I stopped I’d have to restart the read again. I know that sounds like a lot of work, but I do think this book is worth it. I think you can do it for sure, don’t worry :).


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