on 3 September 2006
`MNIR' is a whodunit set in late 16th century Istanbul. An illustrator of manuscripts (Elegant Effendi) is murdered by one of his colleagues. Black Effendi, newly returned from exile, is set the task of finding the murderer by his uncle, for whom the victim was working when he was killed. As Black delves deeper into the output of the workshop in which Elegant worked, he uncovers many tensions between the workers, including over the intrusion of European techniques into Islamic illustration, the succession to the position of master of the workshop, professional jealousy and good old-fashioned lust. Black must unravel these strands to identify the murderer before the sultan makes good a threat to have the whole workshop arrested and tortured.
Parallels with Eco's `The Name of the Rose' are impossible to avoid. Both books are murder mysteries whose resolution is based in religious philosophy, and both play very cleverly with the idea of big religious concepts interacting with the baser aspects of human nature. Fans of one will enjoy the other. Pamuk's writing is more humanistic than Eco's, and perhaps less coldly academic. Black's investigations are woven in with a genuinely fascinating love story that becomes integral to the story, rather than just a distraction. In addition, Pamuk's writing is very beautiful, and the whole book is set against the background of a wintry and claustrophobic Istanbul that is very well described. Because of this, it is slow paced, occasionally too slow, and the murder mystery aspect becomes secondary to Black's own life in places. However, in general I really enjoyed reading `MNIR' and, despite it being a big book, finished it fairly quickly. It was enjoyable and cerebral, and a great piece of historical fiction.
Pamuk accomplishes a stunningly complex historical novel, the best that the genre can offer. With this story, you enter a world fundamentally different from the present day, in which the concerns and world view of the characters are slowly revealed. While there are some constants, such as the search for true love, miniaturists in 16C Turkey are part of a tradition almost totally alien from art today. That Pamuk can weave their very consciousness into a complex mystery novel is truly astonishing. There are many levels that fascinate.
First, of course, there is a murder mystery. As the narrative from various points of view unfolds, clues and many false paths are left for the reader to piece together. It is a dazzlingly elegant labyrinth that kept my mystified to the very last chapters.
Second, there is a man and woman bound by family and seeking fulfillment in love. In thrall to Islamic and Turkish tradition, they perform a long mating dance. If is beautiful, taut with emotion, and as suspenseful as the murder itself.
Third, the time period is at the close of the Ottoman Turks' golden age, when the dynamics behind the expansion of the empire are giving way to a far more conservative society, one that will seek to preserve rather than create, becoming famously decadent over the next 400 years of decline. This turning point is wonderfully and subtly evoked, obliquely and by inference. You also get a feel for the other empires and princes nearby.
Fourth, the reader is introduced to the Islamic tradition of figurative art. As idolatry was forbidden by the Koran, the portrayal of images (rather than exclusively geometric designs) was a risky business. This too is wonderfully evoked and explained. While extremely esoteric, it was not art for the masses, but rather at the behest of the Sultan himself, who would keep the works in a forbidden vault for himself and a few others or sent them as diplomatic gifts. Needless to say, it is opposed by fanatic zealots, who believe that images are a sin against Allah and their absence is the reason that Islamic armies had been beating Western infidels over the last 1000 years.
Fifth, with the invention of perspective in painting during the Renaissance, world art is entering a revolutionary phase: reality is coming to be observed and reproduced in a far more accurate way, which opened the doors to the development of verifiable scientific observation. Rather than allegorical renderings reflecting a neo-platonic ideal in the mind (or as many believed in God's mind), the goal was becoming the accurate portrayal of living subjects. Of course, this shift is controversial and is seen by the ancient masters as a betrayal of their teachings, which they violently protected. Venice, the empire's great rival, is held out as the exemplar of this approach.
Sixth, you get a view into an elite of the period, the miniaturists. How they were trained, what they thought, and how they managed their careers are at the heart of the plot. It is great fun and offers an intimate window into Ottoman society. Their reasoning and concerns - bizarre to the Western reader, resulting in self-mutilation (blinding) and other unfathomable behaviors - are vividly alive and wholly believable. Only a novel can do this about another time.
I was utterly spellbound by this story from page 1. Admittedly, it is rather recondite, but the rewards of a close read are truly worth the effort. This is the best novel by Pamuk I have so far read.
Recommended with the greatest enthusiasm.
on 2 February 2006
I have decided to write this review for 2 reasons:
1. I read the book (!)
2. The reviews haven't done the book justice.
I am native Turkish but having grown up and lived in the UK all my life it was easier for me to read the English translation of this book. Being Turkish I note that the translations were perfect, it has been translated EXACTLY. However, this doesn't take into consideration cultural understandings of terms and phrases. As a Turk it was easier for me to identify with these than perhaps other readers. I was quite surprised by some of the reviews for this book which I put down to "lost in translation" hence my own review...
I found the book original and hugely entertaining. It's a detective story of sorts with love thrown in. But Orhan Pamuk is dealing with lots of other issues too: differences in Eastern/Western art, culture and the impact of religion. Its a very original book and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone. Take it slow and it will all make sense. Promise!
on 1 February 2010
I picked this book up by random at the airport. I normally read books in lightning speed but certainly with this one, I had to take my time. This book is not an easy read and certainly will require time and persistance. I had to go past the 100 page mark to fully follow the ongoings.
The writer has divided each sections of the book by various different narrative including the colour red, the dog, the main characters to describe each part of the story. Some were continous and some not. However, there is a pattern and if you persist, it will come clearer into the context of each story.
The writer also tends to repeat but I don't think this is necessarily a flaw. I actually find this genuinely refreshing. There is a sense of traditional writing which reminds me of old prose literature. The concept in this book I find it to be rather beautiful and romantic. The qoutation he used of the rich Persian and middle-eastern literature were in abundance in this book. Some were familiar as I grew up with them. I felt he tried to use the passion of those tales needled in to his own creation. The result which I find rather spectacular. I think he did it very very well.
The story is simple. It's about a group of hardworking artisan working in secrecy for the Sultan set in the background of Istanbul. A murder has taken place between them and it was a case of who dunit. The history, art and community revolving around each event were intrinsically linked to one another. As the writer has used Turkey as the backdrop and the continual descriptive literature of Persian/Arabian (ie Shirin and Husrev, the great Tamerlane), one cannot escape the concept of religion (err.. Islam obviously) in this book. I suppose if you are a Muslim, you may relate to it a bit better. However, the writer is not afraid to use the very openess of human nature so some reader may take to offence to the way it has been written. Again I do like this, as he treats both religious issues and human nature equally and openly.
Overall, this is a book to perservere in reading. It is different from any other that I have come across - almost an art piece in its own right! It is not an easy read. It takes time and almost like the stories itself, you can't help but fall for it's old charm. I feel floaty after reading this as it is mesmerising, magical with dreams of fairytales, mysteries and of old lovers tale. Beautiful.
Firstly, despite the way Faber have decided to promote this book, it's not a murder mystery in the way those words are usually understood: so if you're looking for a thriller with clues, twists and turns, this definitely isn't it. Partly for that reason I think the reviews which compare it with Eco's The Name of the Rose are off-point. That was a book which playfully refers to the intertextual nature of all reading; reading isn't what's at stake in Pamuk's book at all.
Instead it is a profound and engaging meditation on the contrasting and sometimes conflicting views of eastern and western aesthetics of art, especially visual and religious art: or, rather, the religiosity of art.
Yes, there is a murder which kicks off the story, and another one mid-way through (very brutal and disturbing) but who did it really isn't either the point or the driver of this book. There's also a love story at its heart, but one which draws on the Persian epics that it constantly refers to and so half invites and half resists comparisons with western love stories.
Other reviewers have complained about the narrative voices all sounding the same, and that is the case, but I assume because Pamuk isn't interested in writing a character-driver novel. Also don't read it if you're expecting a lush historical full of exotic detail as that's not the type of book it is (Gregory, Chadwick et al.)
In summary, this is an intellectually-accomplished and brave novel that deals with hard subjects. It's not a difficult read but it is a slow one, one that you need to take your time over and digest, not a page-turner where you can't wait to find out what happens next. I think it's an important book but it won't be to everyone's taste.
Given the number of reviews the plot needs no further recounting. This is a multi-layered and demanding read that took several attempts to master it. The book has numerous short chapters with numerous narrators; sometimes a key human character in the story, other times a horse, a gold coin or the colour red. These 'characters' maintain a constant dialogue directly with the reader.
The translation is intrusive. It varies between an antique style and sudden incongruous modern terms or phrases that really grate - especially 'color'. I read this as a crime novel recommendation but that element is secondary. There is a murder and an investigation which uses the 'courtesan method' as a sort of 16th Century D.N.A./fingerprinting.
The real meat of the novel is all East v West, Franks v Ottomans, 'style' v 'tradition'. These subjects are explored in depth and to my surprise and pleasure I felt educated by Mr Pamuk. This is much more than a historical crime novel. However, this was not the motivation for puchasing and reading this book so caveat emptor.
Reading the storyline of this novel and indeed some of the other reviews one could put off the purchase, however, don't be. To write a review is difficult as its a hard book to describe. On the negative side there are times when the descriptions of illumination and the comparison of painting styles between east and west are heavy going and sometimes I found myself reading whole chapters with no real understanding of their relevance. However, as I got further and further through the book everything slowly came into focus. In the end my only complaint was that there were no examples of illuminations within the book as it fired my imagination to see the work of these painters who were so clearly obsessive about perfecting their art. If you are more confused now, its a description of life in Istanbul,its a love story, its a detective novel, its a book about the conflicting cultures of east and west, its definately a book that makes one think but most of all its a interesting which unlike many books keeps ones attention until the end.
This is a complex book. I found it extremely slow going, as it was clearly working on so many levels, and had so much to say that I almost felt that I should read each page twice and inwardly digest. As such it cannot be said to be a page turner, despite the fact that it is a thriller of sorts.
It revolves around the work of Muslim artist, Black, who is trying to work out who murdered one of his colleagues and why. It plunges us as the reader into the history of Muslim art, and the great theological questions of the day. It is an intense narrative full of asides and stories through which the main plot twists and turns.
This can be a richly rewarding book, but if you are looking for an easy read, or one which reveals its secrets after just a little thought, it probably isn't for you.
on 16 July 2003
On the surface, we have here a murder mystery set in old Istanbul. If you focus on just this story, you start to get the feeling that the author is perhaps not taking you through the most direct route to the conclusion. There are luminous sections of verbose prose, discussions on art, and the culture clash with the West, not may of which are relevant to the murder. Eventually, you may even give it up as a morass of overblown waffle. But don't.
Reading this book is like undertaking a journey and like any journey, it's not about getting to the end, it's the experiences along the way. Yes, this is a murder mystery, but that's just the journey's end (and perhaps nothing more that a construct on which to hang the real ideas).
Read it slowly and savour each little detour, each quirky story (life as a gold coin, anyone?), and atmospheric scenes. Also dwell on a culture where blindness is true sight, true art is the absence of creativity, and the treasures of the Ottoman empire are locked up in damp darkness to rot.
This is an exploration of a culture that has echoes in today. Who murdered who? It's not important. If you rush to find out you will miss the real treasures on the way.
on 28 November 2007
The story of the book 'MY NAME IS RED' revolvs around the Turkey of sixteenth century. But the point Orhan Pamuk makes is the recent one.
The gist of the story is that certain communities block modernity in any field of life. Even the artists are prevented, even beheaded, for disobeying the so-called religious truth.
In 'MY NAME IS RED' there are number of point of views, and the several story tellers. But that has barely affected the flow of the narrative: Orhan Pamuk is such a master of keeping continuity.
Primarily the novel walks around the life of the miniature artists living in Istanbul of late sixteenth century. But it depicts all types of human follies and demonstrates how the negative forces sway over the positive ones.
Narrative techniques Orhan Pamuk displays in his novels justifies the Nobel Prize given to him. He loves his city of Istanbul and he praises the city for its unmatched history of arts and the human tragedies the wars had given to the city.