My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

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You could describe this as a Renaissance Ottoman Murder mystery set in late sixteenth century Istanbul during the reign of Sultan Murat. The cast of suspects are a group of master illustrators working under the guidance of Master Osman; craftsmen and painters who illuminate manuscripts for the Ottoman Sultan. They have been commissioned to produce, in secret, a chronicle of his life, done in the modern style of the “Frankish” i.e. Western European Artists. This change in style offends some of the group and leads to the murder of two of them. Meanwhile a scribe, “Effendi Black” formerly part of the (“School”) has returned to Istanbul after a period abroad is requested by Master Osman to question each of the miniaturists to see if he can discover the culprit. Black also harbours a passion for the married daughter of one of the illustrators from childhood and hopes to marry her as her husband, a soldier in the army is missing for a number of years.

Apart from the murders and Black’s pursuit of Shekure, another theme of the book is the contrast between traditional more idealised Islamic representational art and the realistic style of Renaissance Italy and thus between Islamic and Western cultures. Unusually, the story is told from multiple viewpoints including that of a horse and a tree reflecting subjects painted by the suspect illustrators.

The novel paints an interesting picture of Ottoman society in Istanbul at the peak of its power in the 1590’s. It’s quite humorous, particularly in the character of “Esther” a Jewish peddler. I enjoyed the book and would recommend it though I think its over-long at 500 pages.

You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue online here.

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9 thoughts on “My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

  1. Pingback: Books of the Year 2016 – Part 2 | Ballyroan Reads

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