Book Review: ‘My Name is Red’ by Orhan Pamuk

by britishmisk

I first heard about this book from my Arabic teacher who was recommended it by his fiqh teacher. Under the assumption that Islamic scholars didn’t read novels I thought I would give this one a go.

The story revolves around the character Black who returns to Istanbul after having travelled around the Near and Middle East for many years. Black is a miniaturist painter, and on his arrival back in the city and coming back into the fold of his fellow artisans a murder takes place. The story then progresses from a number of different first person perspectives as the painters try to find out who amongst them is the murderer.

I quickly realised why a Muslim may recommend this book as it could essentially be considered a Muslim novel (given quite a few explicit passages). Despite the fact the writer is a Turkish secularist, his knowledge of classical Islam is remarkably quite wide ranging. Places, practices, books and scholars are mentioned throughout the book and add to the authentic feel of a story that is truly set in the orient as opposed to a romantic vision of it. It also provides a window into the world of miniaturist painting, which is a world away from middle age European portraitist art. But unfortunately this facet of the book is what brought it down for me. The writer spends pages writing how a character feels about a single piece of art a number of times in the novel. This provides an avenue for him to express the beauty of this style of painting, but he layers the intricate language over and over again so many times that it eventually loses its appeal. Also considering this could be seen as a ‘Muslim novel’ it may be difficult for readers who are not familiar with the Muslim world to get into it and understand many of the subtle things being mentioned.

I did eventually make it to the end but I found it quite a tiring experience getting through how vivid, colourful, bright, exciting, unique, inspirational etc etc a piece by Behzad can be described as. It had some potential but it loses it later on.