My Name is Red
“Before my birth there was infinite time, and after my death, inexhaustible time. I never thought of it before: I’d been living luminously between two eternities of darkness.”
The book is set in the 16th century Istanbul and recounts a brilliant mystery which plays out through a religious intrigue, a love story, and in the background, the unquestionable impact of art. The Sultan orders all the acclaimed artists in his land to write a remarkable book which will celebrate the beauties and glories of the Sultan’s realm. Their real task is to illuminate the book in the European style. The order that the Sultan gives is dangerous all by itself, thus the ruling elite must not know about it. When one of the miniaturists working on the project disappears, panic erupts. The only clues lie in the unfinished illuminations.
“…The beauty and mystery of this world only emerges through affection, attention, interest, and compassion; if you want to live in the paradise where happy mares and stallions live, open your eyes wide and actually see this world by attending to its colors, details, and irony.”
My Name is Red is part fantasy and part philosophical journey to the intersection of religion, love, sex, and power. It is structured in such a way that it invites many different discussions in a philosophical vein to play out. The discussions are often focused on topics such as art, or the relationship between Western Europe and the Islamic states. The lack of mystery-like suspense does not diminish the reader’s interest.
“I’m so fortunate to be red! I’m fiery. I’m strong. I know men take notice of me and that I cannot be resisted.
“I do not conceal myself: For me, delicacy manifests itself neither in weakness nor in subtlety, but through determination and will. So, I draw attention to myself. I’m not afraid of other colors, shadows, crowds, or even of loneliness. How wonderful it is to cover a surface that awaits me with my own victorious being! Wherever I’m spread, I see eyes shine, passions increase, eyebrows rise, and heartbeats quicken. Behold how wonderful it is to live! Behold how wonderful to see. I am everywhere. Life begins with and returns to me. Have faith in what I tell you.”
The ambience of the story carries along some of Garcia-Marquez’s vibes, but the storytelling as such could have never been mistaken for his. Every chapter is written in a different voice. Some of them are logical members of the storytelling round, and others not as much. On the other hand, it does seem that all of them are equally credible, mostly because one can never know if the things they are saying are fact or myth.
“When you love a city and have explored it frequently on foot, your body, not to mention your soul, gets to know the streets so well after a number of years that in a fit of melancholy, perhaps stirred by a light snow falling ever so sorrowfully, you’ll discover your legs carrying you of their own accord toward one of your favorite promontories”
A poet called Ka, who was once exiled, travels to the city of Kars in Turkey. The reason for his returning is a report on the high number of suicides among the religious girls who are forbidden from wearing their head-scarves. What Ka is drawn by also are his memories of his great love, Ipek, now divorced.
“There are two kinds of men,’ said Ka, in a didactic voice. ‘The first kind does not fall in love until he’s seen how the girl eats a sandwich, how she combs her hair, what sort of nonsense she cares about, why she’s angry at her father, and what sort of stories people tell about her. The second type of man — and I am in this category — can fall in love with a woman only if he knows next to nothing about her.”
While getting used to the thick blankets of snow, Ka is pursued by many different figures who provoke a universal sense of suspicion. From Ipek’s ex-husband, to a charismatic terrorist, a long lost gift is returned with an ecstatic suddenness. A theatrical evening ends up in a massacre, and the possibility of finding God might be the introduction to losing absolutely everything.
“In a brutal country like ours, where human life is ‘cheap’, it’s stupid to destroy yourself for the sake of your beliefs. Beliefs? High ideas? Only people in rich countries can enjoy such luxuries.”
The book is hypnotic, and gorgeously written. Pamuk’s descriptions of snow create an effect on the reader in the form of a short and pleasurable moment which pulls the reader away from the main action.
This touching book is of immense importance for our time. The way that the plot thickens slightly reminds the reader of Crime and Punishment due to the characters’ crossing each other’s paths intentionally as much as otherwise, while every bit of dialogue seems to have something larger standing behind it representing a certain movement or an idea.
“Solitude is essentially a matter of pride; you bury yourself in your own scent. The issue is the same for all real poets. If you’ve been happy for too long, you become banal. By the same token, if you’ve been unhappy for a long time, you lose your poetic power… Happiness and poverty can only coexist for the briefest time. Afterwords, either happiness coarsens the poet or the poem is so true it destroys his happiness.”
The Museum of Innocence
Published right after Pamuk won the Nobel Prize, The Museum of Innocence explores the notions of romance and odd passions directed at collecting. The book tackles the depths, in Istanbul, of the chasms separating the Western and the traditional, the modern and the historical.
“In poetically well built museums, formed from the heart’s compulsions, we are consoled not by finding in them old objects that we love, but by losing all sense of Time.”
“In Europe, the rich are refined enough to act as if they’re not wealthy. That is how civilized people behave. If you ask me, being cultured and civilized is not about everyone being free and equal; it’s about everyone being refined enough to act as if they were. Then no one has to feel guilty.”
The story starts in 1975, in the spring, in Istanbul. Kemal, a member of one of the wealthiest families in the city, is about to propose Sibel. His soon-to-be fiancée is also a member of another important family from the town. What Kemal didn’t plan on is meeting the beautiful Fusun, a shop girl who is also a long-lost cousin. After violating the code of virginity, Kemal starts to see everything that the Westernization of Istanbul can bring – parties, gossip, picnics, restaurant rituals, mansions, and moral decay. He decides to break off the engagement with Sibel, but it seems that Kemal didn’t think this through enough.
This is one of the most unique books a reader can get hold of. It is written in a remarkable manner, sweeping the reader up in all of its melancholy. The incomparable atmosphere which Pamuk’s prose creates definitely keeps readers on their toes. He succeeds in portraying a whole range of visual imageries, provoking the sense of his own purpose, and playing with the idea of sensibility.
“In fact no one recognizes the happiest moments in their lives as they are living them. It may well be that, in a moment of joy, one might sincerely believe that one is living that golden instant “now,” even having lived such a moment before, but whatever people say, in one part of their hearts they still believe in the certainty of a happier moment to come. Because how could anyone, and particularly anyone who is still young, carry on with the belief that everything could only get worse: If a person is happy enough to think he has reached the happiest moment of his life, he will be hopeful enough to believe his future will be just as beautiful, more so.”