Monday, November 02, 2015

My Name Is Red

Chapter one starts with a murder.  In fact the title of the chapter - like all the chapters - is the name of the narrator: I AM A CORPSE.  The whole book revolves around finding out the narrator of the second chapter: I WILL BE CALLED A MURDERER.

That may be what holds the story together, but it's not really what the book is about.  So unimportant is the identity of the murderer that at our book club, two of the people said they couldn't remember who the murderer was.  MY NAME IS BLACK is probably the most frequent chapter title.  And BLACK is assigned the task of finding out who the murderer is.  They suspect one of three illustrators who were working secretly on a book for the sultan along with CORPSE.  So we hear from each of them as well as I WILL BE CALLED A MURDERER, assuming all along that one of them is the murderer. 

BLACK is assigned to interview the three artists and asks the master how will he be able to tell which is the murderer.  The master tells him to ask three questions, which will give you a glimpse of topics in the book, though at this point you don't have any idea where this will lead.

The three questions:
1.  "Has he come to believe, under the sway of recent custom as well as the influence of the Chinese and the European Franks, that he ought to have an individual painting technique, his own style?  As an illustrator does he want to have a manner, an aspect distinct from others, and does he attempt to prove this by signing his name somewhere in his work like the Frankish masters?  To determine precisely these things, I'd first ask him a question about 'style' and signature.'"

2.  Then, I'd want to learn how this illustrator felt about volumes changing hands, being unbound, and our pictures being used in other books and in other eras after the shahs and sultans who'd commissioned them have died.   .   .  Thus I'd ask a question about 'time' - an illustrator's time and Allah's time.

3.  The third would be 'blindness'!"  said the great master Head Illuminator Osman, who then fell silent as if this required no explication.
"What is it about 'blindness'?"  I said with embarrassment.
"Blindness is silence.  If you combine what I've just now said, the first and second questions, 'blindness' will emerge.  It's the farthest one can go in illustrating;  it is seeing what appears out of Allah's own blackness."

There's also a love story, though not a very satisfying one.   I, SHEKURE is the beautiful woman that a number of the characters are in love with.

My Name Is Red played games with my mind.  Ideas I'd never encountered exploded from the pages.  One of the masters went to Venice and saw many portraits in the "Frankish" style.  Portraits so realistic that if you saw the painting, you would be able to recognize the subject if you saw him on the street.  Well, of course, what's the big deal?  The big deal is that this was amazing to him.  That Allah's ban on idols, made such portraiture forbidden.  I had to go look at miniatures to see what the people looked like.  And yes, there are faces, but no, they really aren't that detailed.

There is also a group of religious fundamentalists who are being stirred up against the artists for trying to have a style.

And blindness?  Well, the work of a miniaturist is so exacting, that many go blind eventually.  Yet, some see this as the perfect situation for an artist because he is painting only what Allah sees at that point.  And they are such skilled artists that they can paint blind.

Lots to ponder here.  But also lots of detail and repetition, which is consistent with miniatures of that era and the return to themes illustrated over and over again.  

By the way, author Pamuk won a Nobel Prize in Literature. 

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