Reading novels from Nobel Literature winners is not my cup of tea. So, when a friend suggested "My Name Is Red" to me, I was apprehensive to start. After all, it is written by Orhan Pamuk, Turkish writer and winner of Nobel Prize in Literature 2006 for his novel titled "Snow". My Name Is Red was written much earlier (in 2001) but still it would be an effort to read it - so as I thought. And, I was indeed correct. It is not effortless reading but it is surely worthwhile.
In general, Orhan Pamuk has been vocal about freedom of expression issues. In year 2005, he was forced to flee from his country due to the hate campaigns against him after he made a statement regarding the mass killings of Armenians and Kurds in Antolia. There were criminal charges brought against him for these remarks but they were subsequently dropped. I have earlier read some part of his Nobel lecture and his thoughts touched me a lot. An excerpt from his Nobel lecture is as follows (translation by Maureen Freely) :-
What literature needs most to tell and investigate today are humanity's basic fears: the fear of being left outside, and the fear of counting for nothing, and the feelings of worthlessness that come with such fears; the collective humiliations, vulnerabilities, slights, grievances, sensitivities, and imagined insults, and the nationalist boasts and inflations that are their next of kind ... Whenever I am confronted by such sentiments, and by the irrational, overstated language in which they are usually expressed, I know they touch on a darkness inside me. We have often witnessed peoples, societies and nations outside the Western world–and I can identify with them easily–succumbing to fears that sometimes lead them to commit stupidities, all because of their fears of humiliation and their sensitivities. I also know that in the West–a world with which I can identify with the same ease–nations and peoples taking an excessive pride in their wealth, and in their having brought us the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and Modernism, have, from time to time, succumbed to a self-satisfaction that is almost as stupid.
My Name Is Red is a kind of murder mystery set in 1591, when the murder of Elegant Effendi, a painter in the Ottoman Empire, threatens to expose a blasphemy that has infected Ottoman court painters. It is rumored that a secret book commissioned by the sultan is dedicated to European artistic styles, which favours figurative arts (prohibited in Islam). Four miniaturists, under the guidance of a rival to the sultan, have been painting it secretly. Consumed by guilt, Elegant confesses one evening, inciting someone to murder him. The clue to which miniaturist murdered him hinges upon the nostrils of a horse: In a drawing found on the dead man's body, these nostrils displayed a distinct style. This story of the sultan's secret book and the murder is told in the first person from the point of view of various narrators, not all of them human. So we hear from the corpse, the lovers and the murderer, a gold coin, the color red, and many more. The characters talk with the reader directly, and nearly each chapter has its own narrator starting with the murdered painter himself in the first chapter.
Wonderfully written book.