Monday, September 18, 2017

GoodReads Review: My Name is Red

My Name is RedMy Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The rating reflects more on my personal lack of interest for the subject than the quality of the book itself. Based at the end of the 16th century in Istanbul, My Name is Red is a murder mystery, a love story, and a picturesque account of life in the capital city of the Ottoman Empire. But essentially it is a story about art. It is the story of miniature painting, the Islamic art of embellishment, and the increasing influence of the Western artistic ideas on miniature artists.

The story develops around a group of miniature artists in the royal workshop of Istanbul who are commissioned by an ambitious old ambassador to create a 'secret' book for the Sultan influenced by the Western style of painting, considered sinful by Islam. The inner turmoil of the miniaturists egged on by a popular orthodox Muslim preacher who is against all paintings, storytelling and coffeehouses leads to the murder of one artist by another, soon to be followed by a second murder. The book wonderfully depicts the rising influence of Western thought in the Ottoman empire that eventually leads to a loss of identity for them as a whole, and particularly the miniature form of art. There are several parallel themes that run in tandem, a particularly evident one being that of motherhood and the love for progeny. Shekure, the main female character of the novel has two sons, Orhan and Shevket. Interestingly the author took these names from his own family; his mother and older brother are called Shekure and Shevket. My Name is Red is a brief introduction to the philosophical outlook of the Turkish people, with their overwhelming awe for their Sultan and their constant preoccupation with Islam at every aspect of life.

The book will serve as an art lover's paradise with its focus on painting and embellishment. It is an enlightening introduction to the world of miniature painting, and the description of the miniaturists at work are vivid. One gets a glimpse into the lives of miniature artists right from their apprenticeship which began when they were mere children, the lengthy and strenuous training that they underwent, often coupled with harsh punishments from their masters, before becoming masters themselves, and their inexorable loss of eyesight with age due to the extreme strain the fine painting put on their eyes. The relationship between masters and apprentices is explored, and the various aspects - that of student, son, friend and even lover - are brought to the forefront. There are extensive and minute word pictures of different works of art that are sure to delight all art enthusiasts. Unfortunately, this was the very aspect of the book that I found exceedingly tedious. I enjoy looking at works of art as much as the next person, but repeated descriptions in intricate details tire me out and take away from my reading experience. I would recommend this book only to those who are keen on reading about art for its own sake; otherwise you are likely to be as exasperated as I became halfway into the book. 

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