My Name Is Red: Orhan Palmuk

I picked up this book after my friend’s recommendation. After reading Palmuk’s Nobel award acceptance speech, I was looking forward to reading more from him.

At the first glance, the book is a murder mystery. It also has a love story woven into it. Readers get to explore Istanbul and other towns in Turkey through the author’s eyes. One also gets a peek into Islam and its customs.

It is based in Istanbul and revolves around a group of miniaturists, painters and gilders who create manuscripts and books. The book begins with the murder of one of the artists and goes on to solve the mystery of who did it and why. Black can be termed as the main character of the book who is madly in love with Shekure. Her beauty is so generously praised all over the book, one eagerly wants to witness her beauty. Whenever I come across such descriptions (‘the most beautiful girl who every man fell in love with’), I begin to wonder if such a woman can ever exist. I must admit, I am sometimes put off by such exaggerations.

The original book is written in Turkish and it has been translated to English by Erdağ M. Göknar. Though he has won acclaims for his translation, I found the sentences too long and flowery. In the later stages of the book, the language was actually a strain – I wanted someone to read the lines and tell me the gist of it.

Another problem area was the pace. Initially, the book moves really fast and somewhere midway, it slows down to a halt before picking up pace again. I feel the book could have been shorter – it was a little too long.

The best thing about the book is definitely the creativity of the author in writing the story from different perspectives. You must have heard about this many times now. He writes from the perspective of a tree, a dog, a gold coin, and even a corpse. I particularly enjoyed the chapter written from the perspective of a gold coin. The coin talks about moving from one person to another and about fake coins. This chapter had some philosophical undercurrent to it.

I happened to notice an error in the book. It was on page 276 in the edition I read. It is that part of the book where Stork, Butterfly and Black team up and go to confront Olive. Stork is wearing an armour and the chapter is narrated by Olive. He says ‘Olive in his shining armor’ or something like that. It should be Stork since it’s Stork who is wearing an armour.

This book is not one of the best I have read, but was not bad enough for me to ditch it. If you want a little peek into Turkey and its people, if you want to read a murder mystery, do read this book.

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One Response to “My Name Is Red: Orhan Palmuk”

  1. Faisal Says:

    Couldn’t agree more. A beautiful book that could have been exquisite, had it been shorther. Sentenced were often too long and rambling. Though liked the stories as narrated by different characters and objects. Also liked the description of Turkey.

    A theme implicit in the book is the tension between pluralistic and particularistic Islam that has been characterizing Muslim history since the end of Muslim gloary in science, art and philosophy. Pamuk– coming from Turkey where this tension is so explicit– anchored this debate in the realm of history.


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