Wednesday, August 06, 2008

My Name is Red: Orhan Pamuk - A Review

By John Cheeran
Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red is that infuriating novel which teases you with a riddle till you almost throw away the bulky paperback.
My Name is Red is a brilliant and bewitching account of Istanbul and the pages are refulgent with the last embers of Islamic tradition of miniature painting, threatened with the onslaught of Western mode of realistic portraiture.
The question that divides the Istanbul miniaturists is whether one should paint as Allah sees the things or as the miniaturists themselves see it. The view from top of the minarets and view from the ground.
One can only wonder about Pamuk’s mastery over the language; what an English reader gets is a translation. But Pamuk has an eye for detail and his baroque way of narration, with an almost effeminate miniaturist Black Effendi pursuing his love, the most beautiful Shekure, is indeed keeps the reader engaged.
It, however, gets tedious when at every turn while looking for the double murderer the narrative falls back to old tales and tiring repetition. Pamuk gets obsessed with his colour schemes and arcane games. For me My Name is Red is the war of attrition between two lovers – Shekure and Black. It is a love story that stays with you, played out in the palette of life in the dim lights of Istanbul.

Let me quote these rapturous lines from My Name Is Red
“I can’t say I completely understood why Persian poets, who for centuries had likened the male tool to a reed pen, also compared the mouths of us women to inkwells, or what lay behind such comparisons whose origins had been forgotten through rote repetition – was it the smallness of mouth? The arcane slice of the inkwell? Was it that God Himself was illuminator? Love, however, must be understood, not through the logic of a woman like me who continually racks her brain to protect herself, but through its illogic…..Like a solemn ship that gains speed as its sails swell with wind, our gradually quickening lovemaking took us boldly into unfamiliar seas….
At the peak of pleasure, he cried out like the legendary heroes cut clear in half with a single stroke of the sword in fabled pictures that immortalized the clash of Persian and Turanian armies; the fact that this cry could be heard throughout the neighbourhood frightened me.
Like a genuine master miniaturist at the moment of greatest inspiration, holding his reed under the direct guidance of Allah, yet still able to take into consideration the form and composition of the entire page, Black continued to direct our place in the world from a corner of his mind even through his highest excitement.
“You can tell them you were spreading salve onto my wounds, “ he said breathlessly.
These words not only constituted the colour of our love – which settled into a bottleneck between life and death, prohibition and paradise, hopelessness and shame --- they also were the excuse for our love.

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