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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

From one of the most important and acclaimed writers at work today, a thrilling new novel—part murder mystery, part love story—set amid the perils of religious repression in sixteenth-century Istanbul.

When the Sultan commissions a great book to celebrate his royal self and his extensive dominion, he directs Enishte Effendi to assemble a cadre of the most acclaimed artists in the land. Their task: to illuminate the work in the European style. But because figurative art can be deemed an affront to Islam, this commission is a dangerous proposition indeed, and no one in the elite circle can know the full scope or nature of the project.
Panic erupts when one of the chosen miniaturists disappears, and the Sultan demands answers within three days. The only clue to the mystery—or crime?—lies in the half-finished illuminations themselves. Has an avenging angel discovered the blasphemous work? Or is a jealous contender for the hand of Enishte’s ravishing daughter, the incomparable Shekure, somehow to blame?

Orhan Pamuk’s My Name Is Red is at once a fantasy and a philosophical puzzle, a kaleidoscopic journey to the intersection of art, religion, love, sex, and power.

Excerpt

Chapter 1

I Am a Corpse

I am nothing but a corpse now, a body at the bottom of a well. Although I drew my last breath long ago and my heart has stopped beating, no one, apart from that vile murderer, knows what's happened to me. As for that wretch, he felt for my pulse and listened for my breath to be sure I was dead, then kicked me in the midriff, carried me to the edge of the well, raised me up and dropped me below. As I fell, my head, which he had smashed with a stone, broke apart; my face, my forehead and cheeks, were crushed; my bones shattered, and my mouth filled with blood.

For nearly four days I have been missing: My wife and children must be searching for me; my daughter, spent from crying, must be staring fretfully at the courtyard gate. Yes, I know they're all at the window, hoping for my return.

But, are they truly waiting? I can't even be sure of that. Maybe they've gotten used to my absence-how dismal! For here, on the other side, one gets the feeling that one's former life persists. 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.

I was happy; I realize now that I'd been happy. I made the best illuminations in Our Sultan's workshop; no one could rival my mastery. Through the work I did privately, I earned nine hundred silver coins a month, which, naturally, only makes all this even harder to bear.

I was responsible for painting and embellishing books. I illuminated the edges of pages, coloring their borders with the most lifelike designs of leaves, branches, roses, flowers and birds. I painted scalloped Chinese-style clouds, clusters of overlapping vines and forests of color that hid gazelles, galleys, sultans, trees, palaces, horses and hunters. In my youth, I would decorate a plate, or the back of a mirror, or a chest, or at times, the ceiling of a mansion or of a Bosphorus manor, or even, a wooden spoon. In later years, however, I applied myself only to manuscript pages because Our Sultan paid well for them. I can't say it seems insignificant now. You know the value of money even when you're dead.

After hearing the miracle of my voice, you might think, "Who cares what you earned when you were alive? Tell us what you can see. Is there life after death? Where's your soul? What about Heaven and Hell? What is death like? Are you in pain?" You're right, people are extremely curious about the Afterlife. Maybe you've heard the story of the man who was so driven by this curiosity that he roamed among soldiers in battlefields. He sought a man who had died and returned to life amid the wounded struggling for their lives in pools of blood, a soldier who could tell him about the secrets of the Otherworld. But one of Tamerlane's warriors, taking the seeker for one of the enemy, cleared him in half with a smooth stroke of his scimitar, causing him to conclude that in the Hereafter man is split in two.

Nonsense! Quite the opposite, I'd even allege that souls divided in life merge in the Hereafter. Contrary to the claims of sinful infidels who have fallen under the sway of the Devil, there is indeed another world, thank God, and the proof is that I am speaking to you from here. I've died, but as you can plainly tell, I haven't ceased to be. Granted, I must confess, I haven't encountered the rivers flowing beside the silver and gold kiosks of Heaven, the broad-leaved trees bearing plump fruit and the beautiful virgins mentioned in the Glorious Koran-though I do very well recall how often and enthusiastically I made pictures of those wide-eyed houris described in the chapter "That Which Is Coming." Nor is there a trace of those rivers of milk, wine, fresh water and honey described with such flourish, not in the Koran, but by visionary dreamers like Ibn Arabi. But I have no intention of tempting the faith of those who live rightly through their hopes and visions of the Otherworld, so let me declare that all I've seen relates specifically to my own very personal circumstances. Any believer with even a little knowledge of life after death would know that a malcontent in my state would be hard-pressed to see the rivers of Heaven.

In short, I, who am known as Master Elegant Effendi, am dead, but have not been interred, therefore my soul has not completely left my body. This extraordinary situation, although naturally my case is not the first, has inflicted a horrible suffering upon the immortal part of me. Though I cannot feel my crushed skull or my decomposing body covered in wounds, full of broken bones and partially submerged in ice-cold water, I do feel the deep torment of my soul struggling desperately to escape its mortal coil. It's as if the whole world, along with my body, were contracting into a bolus of anguish.

I can only compare this contraction to the surprising sense of release I felt during the unequaled moment of my death. Yes, I instantly understood that that wretch wanted to kill me when he unexpectedly struck me with a stone and cracked my skull, but I didn't believe he'd be able to follow through. I suddenly realized I was a hopeful man, something I hadn't been aware of while living my life in the shadows between workshop and household. I clung passionately to life with my nails, my fingers and my teeth, which I sank into his skin. I won't bore you with the painful details of the subsequent blows I received.

When in the course of this agony I knew I would die, an incredible feeling of relief filled me. I felt this relief during the moment of departure; my arrival to this side was soothing, like the dream of seeing oneself asleep. The snow- and mud-covered shoes of my murderer were the last things I noticed. I closed my eyes as if I were going to sleep, and I gently passed over.

My present complaint isn't that my teeth have fallen like nuts into my bloody mouth, or even that my face has been maimed beyond recognition, or that I've been abandoned in the depths of a well-it's that everyone assumes I'm still alive. My troubled soul is anguished that my family and intimates, who, yes, think of me often, imagine me engaged in some trivial business somewhere in Istanbul, or even chasing after another woman. Enough! Find my body without delay, pray for me and have me buried. Above all, find my murderer! For even if you bury me in the most magnificent of tombs, so long as that wretch remains free, I'll writhe restlessly in my grave, waiting, infecting you all with faithlessness. Find that son-of-a-whore murderer and I'll tell you in detail just what I see in the Afterlife-but know this, when he's caught, he must be tortured by slowly splintering eight or ten of his bones, preferably his ribs with a vise, before piercing his scalp with those skewers made especially for the task by torturers, and plucking out his disgusting, oily hair, strand by strand, so he shrieks each time.

Who is this murderer who vexes me so? Why has he killed me in this surprising way? Be curious and mindful of such matters. You say the world is full of base and worthless criminals? Perhaps this one did it, perhaps that one? In that case let me caution you: My death conceals an appalling conspiracy against our religion, our traditions and the way we see the world. Open your eyes, discover why the enemies of the life in which you believe, of the life you're living, and of Islam, have destroyed me. Learn why one day they might do the same to you. One by one, everything predicted by the great preacher Nusret Hoja of Erzurum, to whom I've tearfully listened, is coming to pass. Let me say also that if the situation into which we've fallen were described in a book, even the most expert of miniaturists could never hope to illustrate it. As with the Koran-God forbid I'm misunderstood-the staggering power of such a book arises from the impossibility of its being depicted. I doubt you've comprehended this fact.

Listen to me. When I was an apprentice, I too feared and thus ignored the underlying truths and the voices from beyond. I'd joke about such matters. But I've ended up in the depths of this deplorable well! It could happen to you, be wary. Now, I've nothing left to do but hope for thorough decay, so they can find me by tracing my stench. I've nothing to do but hope-and imagine the torture that some benevolent man will inflict upon that wretched murderer once he's been caught.


From the Hardcover edition.
Orhan Pamuk|Author Q&A|Author Desktop

About Orhan Pamuk

Orhan Pamuk - My Name Is Red

Photo © Elena Seibert

Orhan Pamuk won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006. His novel My Name Is Red won the 2003 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. His work has been translated into more than sixty languages. 

Orhan Pamuk is represented by Random House Speakers Bureau (www.rhspeakers.com)

Author Q&A

A Conversation with

Orhan Pamuk
author of

My Name Is Red

Q. You have used the rather unusual device of telling this story through many narrators. In fact, no two consecutive chapters are in the same voice. Why did you structure the novel this way? What challenges did this structure present?
A. It was so much fun to impersonate my characters! I enjoyed finding the voice of a sixteenth century ottoman miniaturist, a mother of two children who is looking for a husband, the voice of her kids, the demonic voice of a murderer, and the narrative of a dead man on his way to heaven. Not only my characters speak in my story but objects and colors as well. I thought all these distinctive voices would produce a rich music—the texture of daily life in Istanbul four hundred years ago. These shifts in viewpoint also reflect the novel’s main concern about looking at the world from our point of view versus the point of view of a supreme being. All of this is related to the use of perspective in painting; my characters line in a world where the restrictions of perspective do not exist so they speak in their own voice with their own humor.

Q. One of the characters—the younger son of your heroine Shekure—is called Orhan. Is he your alter ego?
A. Orhan is not my alter ego; he is me. Most of the details and some of the anecdotes of the lonely mother and her son’s relationship are derived from my own experience. I also kept my mother’s and brother’s names in the story. The rivalry between the brothers, their constant quarrels, fights, and their negotiations about peace and jealousy of their mother are autobiographical. By carrying the details of my childhood into my historical novel, I hoped to give it a personal dimension.

The challenge of a historical novel is not to render a perfect imitation of the past, but to relate history with something new, enrich and change it with imagination and sensuousness of personal experience.

Q. What kind of research did you have to do to write a novel of such rich historical detail?
A. It took me six years to write this book. Of course, I spent a lot of time reading books and looking at picture, but I rarely thought that of it as "research." I’ve always enjoyed what I was reading and I read what I enjoyed. Ottomans were great record keepers and the records of the governor of Istanbul were well kept and published. So, for hours I used to read the prices of various clothes, carpers, fish or vegetables in Istanbul markets in a given year. This led to interesting discoveries; for example, I learned that barbers also performed circumcisions or pulled teeth for the right prices.

As for researching the paintings, that was more personal because beginning at the age of six, I’ve always thought that I would be a painter. When I was a kid I used to copy the Ottoman miniature that I came across in books. Later, I was influenced by Western painting and stopped painting when I was twenty when I began writing fiction.

Q. Could you explain the paradox of the miniaturist who achieves the heights of greatness only by going blind.
A. The paradox here is based on a very reasonable train of thought: If you were a medieval painter, your craft would be based on imitation and repetition (not on originality as is so often now claimed). The more you imitate and repeat, the more perfect you are. After years of painting and re-painting the same scenes and subjects, my painters’ begin to memorize. These are the beginning of the idea that a master painter does not need to see what he creates.

Q. Does the conflict between the Islamic painting aesthetic and the Western one have significance for you beyond the historical one? Are you trying to suggest something about two very distinct ways of viewing the world?
A. To be influenced by the western ways of portraiture is a dilemma for the traditional Islamic painter who is devoted to repetition and purification of traditional forms. Beyond this lie two different ways of seeing, painting, and even representing the world. One is that of seeing the world through the eyes of any individual person—looking at things from our humble point of view. The other is seeing the world through God’s eyes, from high above as the Islamic painters did, and perceiving the totality of, say a battle from above. The latter is more like seeing with the mind’s eye, rather than the eye itself.

I tried to tell my story in the manner of these Persian masters. These two distinctive ways of seeing the world and narrating stories are of course related to our cultures, histories, and what is now popularly called identities. How much are they in conflict? In my novel they even kill each other because of this conflict between east and west. But, of course, the reader, I hope, realizes that I do not believe in this conflict. All good art comes from mixing things from different roots and cultures, and I hope My Name is Red illustrates just that.

Q. Who are some of the writers and artists who have influenced you?

A. I am forty-eight, and at this age the idea of influence makes me nervous. I’d rather say that I learn and pick-up things from other authors. I’ve learned from Thomas Mann that the key to pleasures of historical fiction is the secret are of combining details. Italo Calvino taught me that inventiveness is as important as history itself. From Eco, I’ve learned that the form of the murder mystery can be gracefully used. But I have learned most from Marguerite Yoursenar; she wrote a brilliant essay about the tone and language in historical fiction.

What inspired me most for My Name is Red were the Islamic miniatures. Thousands of little details from countless miniatures that I’ve looked at took their place in the novel. Behind these scenes of love and war lie the classical Islamic texts because the miniatures were always drawn to illustrate the best scenes of stories that once upon a time everyone knew by heart and today, because of westernization, very few remember. My Name is Red is a homage to these forgotten stories and the wonderful pictures drawn for book lovers of the time.

Q. Your book had the largest first print run of any novel ever published in Turkey. How does that make you feel, and why do you think this novel had such broad appeal? How do you think the American audience will respond to this novel?
A. When a book sells that much in my part of the world the journalists always ask questions about the mysteries of the sales rather than the mysteries of the text. I always say that I do not know why the book sells that much. I cannot predict the response of the American reader either. But I always worry about such matters…Then, of course, I feel guilty about my worldly worries.


From the Hardcover edition.

Author Q&A

Orhan's Pamuk's desktop includes images of classical Persian and Ottoman miniatures, upon which My Name is Red is based, accompanied by author commentary or related passages from the novel.

Praise | Awards

Praise

"It is neither passion nor homicide that makes Pamuk's latest, My Name is Red, the rich and essential book that it is. . . . It is Pamuk's rendering of the intense life of artists negotiating the devilishly sharp edge of Islam 1,000 years after its brith that elevates My Name is Red to the rank of modern classic. . . . To read Pamuk is to be steeped in a paradox that precedes our modern-day feuds beteween secularism and fundamentalism."
--Jonathan Levi, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Straddling the Dardanelles sits the city of Istanbul . . . and in that city sits Orhan Pamuk, chronicler of its consciousness . . . His novel's subject is the difference in perceptions between East and West . . . [and] a mysterious killer... driven by mad theology. . .Pamuk is getting at a subject that has compelled modern thinkers from Heidegger to Derrida . . . My Name is Red is a meditation on authenticity and originality . . . An ambitious work on so many levels at once."
--Melvin Jules Bukiet, Chicago Tribune

"Most enchanting . . . Playful, intellectually challenging, with an engaging love story and a full canvas of memorable characters, My Name is Red is a novel many, many people will enjoy."
--David Walton, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"Intensely exhilarating . . . Arresting and provocative . . . To say that Orhan Pamuk's new novel, My Name is Red, is a murder mystery is like saying that Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov is a murder mystery: it is true, but the work so richly transcends the conventional limitations of genre as to make the definition seem almost irrelevant. . . . The techniques of classical Islamic literature are used to anchor the book within a tradition of local narrative, but they can also be used with a wonderfully witty and distancing lightness of touch . . . All the exuberance and richly descriptive detail of a nineteenth-century European novel . . . The technique of Pamuk's novel proclaims that he himself is a magnificently accomplished hybrid artist, able to take from Eastern and Western traditions with equal ease and flair . . . Formally brilliant, witty, and about serious matters . . . It conveys in a wholly convincing manner the emotional, cerebral, and physical texture of daily life, and it does so with great compassion, generosity, and humanity . . . An extraordinary achievement."
--Dick Davis, Times Literary Supplement, UK

"My Name is Red is a fabulously rich novel, highly compelling . . . This pivotal
book, which absorbed Pamuk through the 1990s, could conclusively establish him as one of the world's finest living writers."
--Guy Mannes-Abbott, The Independent, UK

"A murder mystery set in sixteenth-century Istanbul [that] uses the art of miniature illumination, much as Mann's 'Doctor Faustus' did music, to explore a nation's soul. . . . Erdag Goknar deserves praise for the cool, smooth English in which he has rendered Pamuk's finespun sentences, passionate art appreciations, sly pedantic debates, [and] eerie urban scenes."
--John Updike, The New Yorker

"Pamuk is a novelist and a great one...My Name is Red is by far the grandest and most astonishing contest in his internal East-West war...It is chock-full of sublimity and sin...The story is told by each of a dozen characters, and now and then by a dog, a tree, a gold coin, several querulous corpses and the color crimson ('My Name is Red')...[Readers will] be lofted by the paradoxical lightness and gaiety of the writing, by the wonderfully winding talk perpetually about to turn a corner, and by the stubborn humanity in the characters' maneuvers to survive. It is a humanity whose lies and silences emerge as endearing and oddly bracing individual truths."
--Richard Eder, New York Times Book Review


"The interweaving of human and philosophical intrigue is very much as I remember it in The Name of the Rose, as is the slow, dense beginning and the relentless gathering of pace . . . But, in my view, his book is by far the better of the two. I would go so far as to say that Pamuk achieves the very thing his book implies is impossible . . . More than any other book I can think of, it captures not just Istanbul's past and present contradictions, but also its terrible, timeless beauty. It's almost perfect, in other words. All it needs is the Nobel Prize."
--Maureen Freely, New Statesman, UK

"A perfect example of Pamuk's method as a novelist, which is to combine literary trickery with page-turning readability . . . As a meditation on art, in particular, My Name is Red is exquisitely subtle, demanding and repaying the closest attention . . We in the West can only feel grateful that such a novelist as Pamuk exists, to act as a bridge between our culture and that of a heritage quite as rich as our own."
--Tom Holland, Daily Telegraph, UK

"Readers . . . will find themselves lured into a richly described and remarkable world . . . Reading the novel is like being in a magically exotic dream . . .Splendidly enjoyable and rewarding . . . A book in which you can thoroughly immerse yourself."
--Allan Massie, The Scotsman, UK

"A wonderful novel, dreamy, passionate and august, exotic in the most original and exciting way. Orhan Pamuk is indisputably a major novelist."
--Philip Hensher, The Spectator, UK

"[In this] magnificent new novel... Pamuk takes the reader into the strange and beautiful world of Islamic art,in which Western notions no longer make sense .... In this world of forgeries, where some might be in danger of losing their faith in literature, Pamuk is the real thing, and this book might well be one of the few recent works of fiction that will be remembered at the end of this century."
--Avkar Altinel, The Observer, UK


From the Hardcover edition.

Awards

WINNER 2003 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
WINNER 2003 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
WINNER 2006 Nobel Prize
About the Book|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Guide

Orhan Pamuk Reader’s Companion
 
Orhan Pamuk was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006, the first Turkish author to receive the award. He is the overall bestselling author in his homeland and his books have been published in more than fifty languages. This guide is designed to help you explore Pamuk’s world and writings, whether your group chooses to read all of his works or to focus on his acclaimed novels or engaging nonfiction titles.
 
Born in Istanbul in 1952, Pamuk grew up in a well-to-do, Western-oriented family. As a child he attended private schools and dreamed of becoming an artist. He began his studies at Istanbul Technical University in architecture, but at the age of twenty-two switched to journalism, taking the first step in his career as a writer. Pamuk’s first novel, Cevdet Bey and His Sons, the story of three generations of a Turkish family, was published in Turkey in 1982. The White Castle, the first of his novels to be translated into English, takes place in seventeenth-century Constantinople (as Istanbul was then called) and explores the meeting between East and West, a theme that recurs throughout Pamuk’s writing career. The White Castle also introduced a deeper, more personal interest, one that imbues in his works of fiction and nonfiction alike: the relationship between dreams and reality, memory and imagination.
 
In his early years as a writer, Pamuk spent five years in residence at Columbia University, where he now holds a position as a visiting professor. In the autobiographical profile he wrote for the Nobel Prize committee, Pamuk reflected on his time as a visiting scholar at Columbia and the influence that had on his evolution as a writer: “I was thirty-three years old . . . and asking myself hard questions about who I was, and about my history. . . . During my time in New York, my longing for Istanbul mixed with my fascination for the wonders of Ottoman, Persian, Arab, and Islamic culture” (copyright © The Nobel Foundation, 2006). For much of those five years, Pamuk devoted himself to writing The Black Book, a strikingly original novel that weaves multiple voices and beguiling stories about Istanbul, past and present, into a modern-day detective story.
 
In his next novel, The New Life, Pamuk once again transformed the conventions of mystery into an intellectual adventure, creating a world in which a mysterious book, a fleeting romance, and conspiracies real and imagined wreak havoc on a university student’s life and his sense of identity. Set in the sixteenth century, My Name Is Red revisits Turkey’s rich and complex Ottoman past in a fascinating tale about the impact of Western art and aesthetics on an Islamic society that stifled individual creativity and strictly prohibited the creation of representational paintings.
 
As Pamuk’s fame grew throughout the 1990s, journalists in Turkey and abroad looked to him for elucidation on the political situation in his homeland and its relations with the West. Troubled by the changes occurring in Turkey, Pamuk wrote Snow, his first overtly political novel. A thought-provoking, witty, and balanced portrait of the rise of political Islamism, Snow was widely read and discussed in Turkey and became an international bestseller. The Museum of Innocence, Pamuk’s newest work of fiction, examines the nature of romantic attachment and the mysterious allure of collecting as it traces a wealthy man’s lifetime obsession with the lower-class woman he had loved and abandoned as a young man.
 
Collected essays, articles, and autobiographical sketches
 
Now in his late fifties, Orhan Pamuk lives in Istanbul in the same apartment building he grew up in. His deep attachment to the city is beautifully captured in Istanbul: Memories and the City, a combination of childhood memoir and journey into Istanbul life through his own eyes and those of painters and writers (including European visitors like the German artist Antoine-Ignace Melling and the French writers Gérard de Nerval and Gustave Flaubert); enhanced with photographs, it illuminates the personal and artistic influences on his work. Other Colors showcases the range and depth of Pamuk’s interests. There are short, lyrical pieces about his personal life collected under the apt and intriguing title “Living and Worrying”; critical essays on literary figures such as Dostoevsky, Camus, Nabokov, Vargas Llosa, and Rushdie, along with assessments of several of his own novels; and commentaries on a wide variety of political and cultural matters. A captivating collection, Other Colors provides fresh insights into the mind and imagination of one of today’s most notable writers.
 
A political drama and the recognition of Pamuk’s contributions to literature
 
In an interview with a Swiss newspaper in February 2005, Pamuk denounced the Ottoman massacre of millions Armenians in 1915 and the slaughter of thirty thousand Kurds in Turkey during the 1990s. His comments caused a furor in Turkey: several newspapers launched campaigns against him and he was officially charged with the crime of “publicly denigrating Turkish identity.” Facing death threats, Pamuk moved abroad. He returned to face a trial and the possibility of three years of imprisonment; the charges were dropped on a technicality in January 2006. The incident reverberated internationally, highlighting the conflict between anti-European nationalism in Turkey and the government’s campaign to join the European Union. It exposed, as well, the simmering distrust of—and sometimes blatant hostility toward—Muslim populations in the United States and Europe.
 
In awarding Orhan Pamuk the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006, the Swedish Academy said, “In the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city, [Pamuk] has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures.” Pamuk’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, “My Father’s Suitcase” (Other Colors, pages 403–17), offers a more personal explanation of why he became a writer and what he hopes to accomplish:

It was only by writing books that I came to a fuller understanding of the problems of authenticity (as in My Name Is Red and The Black Book) and the problems of life on the periphery (as in Snow and Istanbul). For me, to be a writer is to acknowledge the secret wounds that we carry inside us. . . . My confidence comes from the belief that all human beings resemble one other, that others carry wounds like mine—that they will therefore understand. All true literature rises from this childish, hopeful certainty that all people resemble one another.

Discussion Guides

1. Have Pamuk’s books changed your perceptions of Turkey? What insights do they offer into the country’s history and place in the world?

2. Have his books given you a deeper understanding of the Muslim world? Have they altered your opinion about the current situation in the Middle East and other parts of the world where Islam is the dominant religion? Have you become more or less sympathetic?

3. Pamuk’s novels range over a wide span of time, from the sixteenth century (My Name Is Red) to the present day (Snow). Compare your reactions to the historical novels and the contemporary works. Which do you prefer and why?

4. In these books what impact do the tensions between Eastern and Western beliefs and customs have on individual lives, on the relations between classes and ethnic groups, or on political debates? What competing ideologies (or ways of thinking) affect the characters’ behavior and emotional responses? Consider the ethical, religious, and social dilemmas individuals face and how they resolve them.

5. Snow is prefaced by epigraphs from Robert Browning, Stendahl, Dostoevsky, and Joseph Conrad. How does each of them apply not only to Snow, but also to the other Pamuk books you have read? Citing specific passages, how would you characterize the author’s feelings about Western attitudes toward the Muslim world?

6. What role do perceptions—or misperceptions—about Islamic law and religious customs play in the assumptions Westerners make about Muslims? Are there current controversies in the United States or Europe that support your view?

7. Do Pamuk’s depictions of the relationships between men and women conform to your impressions of romance, marriage, and family life in a Muslim society? How are women presented in the historical novels? In what ways do the women in the novels set in the present (or in the recent past) embody both traditional female roles and the new opportunities they have to express their opinions and act on their beliefs?

8. Istanbul opens with an essay about Pamuk’s feelings as a child that “somewhere in the streets of Istanbul . . . there lived another Orhan so much like me that he could pass for my own twin, even my double” (page 3). Many reviewers, including John Updike, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, and Charles McGrath, have written about what McGrath calls “an enduring Pamuk preoccupation: the idea of doubleness or split identity” (New York Times, October 13, 2006). Can you find examples of doubleness in the books you have read, and if so, what do these add to the story? What insights do they reveal about Pamuk’s own sense of identity?

9. What techniques does Pamuk use to bring his characters, real and fictional, to life? How do his descriptions of settings, manners, and other everyday details enhance the portraits he creates? What use does he make of humor, exaggeration, and other stylistic flourishes in his depictions of particular situations, conversations, musings, and arguments?

10. Pamuk employs many of the literary devices associated with postmodern and experimental fiction. (McGrath, for example, notes his use of “narratives within narratives, texts that come alive, labyrinths of signs and symbols . . .”). In what ways do his books echo Italo Calvino’s allegorical fantasies? What do they share with the writings of Jorge Luis Borges and other magical realists? What aspects of his literary style can be traced to earlier masters of innovative fiction like Kafka and Nabokov?

11. In an essay on the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa in Other Colors, Pamuk writes, “It is clear . . . that there is a sort of narrative novel that is particular to the countries of the Third World. Its originality has less to do with the writer’s location than with the fact that he knows he is writing far from the world’s literary centers and he feels this distance inside himself” (page 168). Discuss how this manifests itself in Pamuk’s own works, as well as the works of Vargas Llosa and other authors writing from the Third World. Are there creative advantages to living and writing “far from the world’s literary centers”?

12. Pamuk writes in Istanbul of authors who left their homelands—Conrad, Nabokov, Naipaul: “Their imaginations were fed by exile, a nourishment drawn not through roots, but through rootlessness” (page 6). If you have read the works of these writers, or other authors in exile, do you agree that their books reflect—in style or in content—the effects of living in a new, foreign culture? To what extent is Pamuk’s writing rooted in the storytelling traditions of Eastern cultures? In what ways does it show the influence of his early exposure to Western literature, his participation in international literary circles, and his longtime association with American academia?

13. Despite the many differences between the societies Pamuk describes and our own, why do his characters and their behavior resonant with contemporary English-speaking readers? Are there aspects of Turkish mores that make it difficult to sympathize or engage with the characters in the novels? Do these factors also influence your reactions to his autobiographical pieces, literary criticism, and cultural observations in both Other Colors and Istanbul?

14. How does Pamuk’s personal history, as well as the plots of some novels, mirror the complicated history of Turkey? Consider such topics as: the decline and dissolution of the once powerful Ottoman Empire; the sweeping changes initiated by Atatürk in the 1920s; the conflicting desires to preserve Turkey’s distinctive heritage and to become more active in the global community; and the rise of fundamentalist Islam throughout Middle East today.

15. In discussing the importance of novels, Pamuk says, “Modern societies, tribes, and nations do their deepest thinking about themselves by reading novels; through reading novels, they are able to argue about who they are” (Other Colors, page 233). Do you agree? What can novels provide that nonfiction books and other media do not?


(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com)

Suggested Readings

Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy; Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions; Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities; Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss; Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground; Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum; Franz Kafka, The Castle; James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; Milan Kundera, Immortality; Naguib Mahfouz, The Cairo Trilogy; Gabriel García Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera; Vladimir Nabokov, Ada; V. S. Naipaul, A Bend in the River; Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past
 
Pamuk’s works are available in Vintage paperback editions (listed here in order of their first translation into English): The White Castle; The New Life; My Name Is Red; The Black Book; Snow; Istanbul; Other Colors; The Museum of Innocence

  • My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk
  • August 27, 2002
  • Fiction - Literary
  • Vintage
  • $15.95
  • 9780375706851

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