Orhan Pamuk

Orhan Pamuk

THE LAUREATE: Orhan Pamuk was born in Istanbul in 1952. Tell you what, here’s his website. He seems like a cool guy. Some people say his Nobel award in 2006 was politically motivated (he said Turkey killed a million Armenians and thirty thousand Kurds and was put on trial for insulting the honor of Turkey by telling the truth),  but I say even if it was, so what?

WHAT I’M READING: I actually bought two of his books on the strength of the blurbs on the back, but I ended up reading My Name is Red, because the blurb on the back of it was so much cooler.REVIEW: Turns out I was right, and My Name is Red is pretty baller. In 16th century Istanbul, Western standards of portraiture (i.e. a little something you might have heard of called the Harlem Renaissance. Read a book sometime, geez) are infiltrating the Sultan’s illumination workshop. The Sultan himself has commissioned a grand manuscript to send to Venice to celebrate the thousandth year of Islam, and the miniaturist he selected to oversee it is obsessed with perspective and other painting techniques the Italians had been fiddling with for the last three hundred years. Since Islam forbids non-abstract paintings of all varieties (if you interpret the Koran in a very strict way), illuminators are already on the fanatics’ death list, but creating realistic portraits the way we see them, where things that are further away are smaller than things that are closer, rather than the way Allah sees them, where important things are bigger than unimportant things, is just begging for trouble. And trouble gleefully responds, with the gilder and the chief illuminator for the book both murdered. The book is narrated by a variety of perspectives, some odd, like the gilder’s corpse and a drawing of a coin, and some more conventional, like the chief illuminator’s nephew who wants to marry his widowed daughter. It is also a window into a cultural world I’ve had very little experience with. Late Medieval Islam is certainly a fascinating place, culturally. I’ve got the little Penguin translation of Rostem’s adventures out of the Book of Kings, but I haven’t read much of it (this will change).

RECOMMENDED: Murder mystery, love affair with old books, explication on illuminated manuscripts, portrait of a society gone and largely ignored; how can I not recommend it?

WHAT’S NEXT: Mario Vargas Llosa’s The War of the End of the World

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