My Name Is Red (Benim Adım Kırmızı) is a Turkish novel by Nobel laureate author Orhan Pamuk. It won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2003, as well as the French Prix du meilleur livre étranger and Italian Premio Grinzane Cavour awards in 2002.
The main characters in the novel are miniaturists in the Ottoman Empire. The events revolve around the murder of one of the painters, as related in the first chapter. From then on, Pamuk — in a postmodern style reminiscent of Jorge Luis Borges — plays with the reader and with literary conventions in general.
The novel's narrator changes in every chapter. In addition to character-narrators, the reader will find unexpected voices such as the corpse of the murdered, a coin, several painting motifs, and the color red. The novel blends mystery, romance, and philosophical puzzles, opening a window on the reign of Ottoman Sultan Murat III during nine snowy winter days in the Istanbul of 1591.
Enishte Effendi, the maternal uncle of Kara (Black), is reading the Book of the Soul by Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya, a famous Sunni commentator on the Qur'an, and continuous references to it are made throughout the book. The most important of these is the fact that part of the novel is narrated by Elegant Effendi, a murdered miniaturist. Al-Jawziyya argues, in the same fashion as Islamic doctrine in general, that the souls of the dead linger on earth and can hear the living.
Pamuk compares illustrations with the afterlife in the sense that people aspire to achieve a sense of eternity through both. Thus Shekure imagines to speak to us readers like the women on illustrations look at her. ... just like those beautiful women with one eye on the life within the book and one eye on the life outside, I, too, long to speak with you who are observing me from who knows which distant time and place. The murdered Elegant Effendi accused his murderer of sacrilegious illustrations offending Allah or God. Is true art an expression of the individual artist or is true art a close to perfect representation of the divine in which the individual artist has succeeded to overcome his personal vanity? This question becomes a question of existential meaning in Pamuk's tale.
- Master Elegant Effendi, murdered miniaturist who speaks from the afterlife to the reader in the opening chapter.
- Kara (Black), miniaturist and binder. Recently returned from 12 years away in Persia. Nephew of Enishte.
- Enishte Effendi, maternal uncle of Black, who is in charge of the creation of a secret book in the style of the Franks
- Shekure, Enishte's beautiful daughter with whom Black is in love; Shekure (related to English 'sugar' refers to Shirin, meaning 'sweet')
- Shevket, Shekure's older son
- Orhan, Shekure's younger son
- Hassan, the younger brother of Shekure's husband
- Hayriye, slave girl in Enishte's household, Enishte's concubine.
- Master Osman, head of the Sultan's workshop of miniaturists
- Butterfly, one of three miniaturists suspected for the murders. Paints figures in the book of Death, the Melancholy Woman.
- Stork, one of three suspect miniaturists. Paints the Tree and the Dog.
- Olive, one of three suspect miniaturists. Paints Satan, the Horse, and the two Dervishes.
- Esther, A Jewess peddler, carries lovers' letters.
- Nusret Hoja, A Conservative Muslim leader, opposes coffeehouses, stories, and paintings.
Books within the book
Within My Name is Red
several books by famous miniaturists are referenced by the characters in the book:
- Book of the Soul by Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya
- Book of Festivities or An Imperial Celebration by Surname-I Hümayun, in the story still under completion
- Shahnameh or the Book of Kings by the Persian poet Firdawsi, is the national epic of the Persian speaking world
- Chronicle of Sultan Selim
- The Convergence of the Stars, ordered by Sam Mirza, brother of Shah Ismail
- Hüsrev and Shirin by Nizami (English: Khosru and Shireen), this love story forms the central idea behind the love story in My Name is Red
- Book of Equines by the Bukharan scholar Fadlan (a drawing of a horse is the key to finding the murderer in My Name is Red)
- The Illustration of Horses, three volumes on how to draw horses: The Depiction of Horses, The Flow of Horses, and The Love of Horses by Jemalettin of Kazvin
- The Blindman's Horses, a critique on the prior three volumes by Kemalettin Riza of Herat
- History of Tall Hasan, Khan of the Whitesheep by Jemalettin
- Gulestan by Sadi
- Book of Victories with the funeral ceremonies of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent
- Book of Skills
Turkish and English are very different in word order and sentence structure, and a few readers have found the word order in the English translation difficult. However, Erdağ M. Göknar
's translation of My Name is Red
received very high praise from John Updike
in The New Yorker
: "Erdağ M. Goknar deserves praise for the cool, smooth English in which he has rendered Pamuk's finespun sentences, passionate art appreciations, sly pedantic debates, [and] eerie urban scenes. Many readers and critics consider My Name is Red
to be Goknar's best work in English translation. It has won more international awards than any of his other novels. The translator was present on Pamuk's behalf to accept the IMPAC award at Dublin, and, as is customary with this award, received a one-fourth share of the prize.
- 1998, Turkey, Iletisim Yayincilik (ISBN 975-470-711-1), Pub date ? ? 1998, hardback (First edition - in Turkish)
- 2001, USA, Alfred A Knopf (ISBN 978-0375406959), Pub date ? August 2001, hardback (1st English edition)
- 2001, UK, Faber & Faber (ISBN 978-0571200474), Pub date 2 November 2001, paperback
- 2002, UK, Faber & Faber (ISBN 978-0571212248), Pub date 31 July 2002, paperback
- 2002, USA, Vintage Books (ISBN 978-0375706851), Pub date ? September 2002, paperback (Erdag Goknar translator)
- 2008, UK, Dramatised on BBC Radio 4 in 2 parts by Ayeesha Menon, directed by John Dryden, August 2008.