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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

My Name is Red

Orhan Pamuk

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase My Name is Red

Title: My Name is Red
Author: Orhan Pamuk
Genre: Novel
Written: 1998 (Eng. 2001)
Length: 413 pages
Original in: Turkish
Availability: My Name is Red - US
My Name is Red - UK
My Name is Red - Canada
My Name is Red - India
Mon nom est Rouge - France
Rot ist mein Name - Deutschland
Il mio nome è rosso - Italia
Me llamo Rojo - España
  • Turkish title: Benim adim kirmizi
  • Translated by Erdag M. Göknar
  • International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award winner, 2003

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Our Assessment:

A- : beguiling, if also a bit laboured

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Christian Science Monitor . 11/10/2001 Char Simons
Daily Telegraph A- 18/8/2001 Tom Holland
The Economist . 27/10/2001 .
FAZ . 10/11/2001 Ernst Osterkamp
The Guardian . 23/10/2004 John Mullan
Neue Zürcher Zeitung A 9/10/2001 Monika Carbe
New Statesman A+ 27/8/2001 Maureen Freely
The NY Times Book Rev. A 2/9/2001 Richard Eder
The New Yorker . 3/9/2001 John Updike
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Fall/2001 Allen Hibbard
San Francisco Chronicle B+ 9/12/2001 Sarah Coleman
TLS A+ 7/9/2001 Dick Davis

  Review Consensus:

  Impressed, and quite a few find it absolutely brilliant

  From the Reviews:
  • "While My Name Is Red has a many-layered plot -- including a murder mystery and a love story -- its thematic value is threefold: to provide a glimpse into an Islamic society, to understand the global tensions that exist when one empire waxes while another wanes, and to point out the cyclical nature of history." - Char Simons, Christian Science Monitor

  • "Less forgivable, however, is the fact that his various suspects are insufficiently differentiated from each other, so that in the end we simply don't care who the murderer is. In a lesser novel this would be a terminal flaw. But no writer as elusive as Pamuk can write an uninteresting book, and as a meditation on art, in particular, My Name Is Red is exquisitely subtle, demanding and repaying the closest attention." - Tom Holland, Daily Telegraph

  • "It is an enlightening, though eerie, experience to read this book at the present moment. For its theme is a clash of cultures -- between a religious tradition which subordinates man to God, and a new-fangled individualism which places man at the centre of the universe." - The Economist

  • "Rot ist freilich auch die Farbe der Liebe. Pamuks verwirrend schöner Roman erzählt deshalb, wie fast jeder gute Kriminalroman, zugleich eine wunderbare Liebesgeschichte. (...) Dieser Roman ist ein wunderbar reiches Stück Weltliteratur." - Ernst Osterkamp, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "This is a novel of ideas and a meditation on how east and west might meet. It is also an example of what has been a popular genre in recent decades: the historical mystery." - John Mullan, The Guardian

  • "Man wird nicht müde, Pamuk zu lesen, denn wieder hat er ein sprachliches Kunstwerk geschaffen, schildert in tausendundein Farben ein Intrigenspiel um Liebe und Tod, um Tradition und den Aufbruch in die Moderne, das in vergangenen osmanischen Zeiten handelt und doch auf das Heute abzielt." - Monika Carbe, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "He has taken his inspiration from western modernist literature, but instead of destroying his 16th-century artists, he illuminates their world as no one has before. (...) More than any other book I can think of, it captures not just its past and present contradictions, but also its terrible, timeless beauty. It's almost perfect, in other words." - Maureen Freely, New Statesman

  • "My Name Is Red is not just a novel of ideas. Eastern or Western, good or bad, ideas precipitate once they sink to human level, unleashing passions and violence. Red is chockful of sublimity and sin. (...) To sum up, and each time the sums come out different: the ideas in Red give fascination and energy, and work to hold together its turbulent narrative. They work and they fail; and in a way, though not entirely, the failure is Pamuk's success." - Richard Eder, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Pamuk, however, is not at all didactic; rather, he simply displays the cultural dynamics at work. As in Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, the story's baton is handed from one character to another and moves through time, producing a clever narrative scheme we only wholly grasp on the last page." - Allen Hibbard, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "(A) huge and ambitious novel that is by turns charming and pedantic. (...) Here, the ingredients are potent, but the balance is off. Like an overenthusiastic master illustrator, Pamuk paints a vivid picture, but loads it with so many details and symbols that the eye has nowhere calm to rest." - Sarah Coleman, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "This novel is then formally brilliant, witty and about serious matters. But even this inclusive description does not really capture what I feel is the book's true greatness, which lies in its managing to do with apparent ease what novelists have always striven for but very few achieve. 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." - Dick Davis, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       My Name is Red is a novel presented in many voices and from many perspectives. The short chapters are narrated by more than a dozen different characters; most are human, but they also include a dog, a horse, a tree, and a coin.
       The novel begins dramatically: the first voice is that of a dead person, the just-murdered Elegant Effendi. His murderer is a recurring character, telling his story both anonymously (in the chapters entitled I will be called a murderer) but also as character not identified by the others as being the killer until the end. (Yes, the novel is a murder-mystery -- though definitely not a typical one.)
       The setting is the late 16th century, in Istanbul. Elegant Effendi -- and his murderer -- are artists: miniaturists and illustrators. Other central characters include Enishte Effendi, a master artist, his nephew, called Black (also a painter), and his daughter Shekure. Twelve years earlier Black had fallen in love with Shekure, but it was not possible for them to marry; Black left Istanbul and only now has returned. Shekure married three years after he left, and now has two sons, but her husband disappeared years ago and is presumed dead. Now her husband's brother, Hasan, is pressuring her to marry him (as Black also renews his suit).
       My Name is Red is very much a book about art and reality, about what the purpose of art is -- and about its dangers. There is a good deal of discussion about painting and art, and about what makes real art (and what is only hackwork). Pamuk offers some splendid detail here, from what the miniaturists do to avoid going blind (face away from the sun when it rises, among other things) to the idea that only in blindness does pure art exist.
       Central to the novel is the contest between the old and new, and tradition and change (and the representatives of these, East and West). From artists who are mere copyists to those who want to apply the new methods of the Western infidels -- including the use of perspective --, there is incredible tension here. Indeed, the murders (there is more than one) have to do with art (and all its implications), the dead Elegant warning:

My death conceals an appalling conspiracy against our religion, our traditions and the way we see the world.
       All these debates and the varieties of approaches to artistic production -- from imitation to innovation --, as well as the artist's life in these times and this place are well-conveyed by Pamuk, and much is fascinating. His descriptions and evocations are even picture-like, paying attention to a variety of different complementary details or repeatedly using similar scenes and motifs for different effects.
       My Name is Red also offers romance -- though almost all expressions of feeling (and the actions that go along with them) are disappointing. Shekure has the excuse that as a woman -- and a married woman, more or less, no less -- she is limited in what she can do and also has to think about her children. But Black is also only moderately satisfactory as a romancer.
       Politics and an all-mighty Sultan also play a significant role; there's a good deal of talk about torture, too, which the artists must always be prepared for. And there are a few other thriller-elements, including the contest for Shekure (which gets nice and complicated by the end, with reports of her husband still being alive to go along with an inconvenient death or two).
       It's the discussions about and considerations of art and artistry that are the most interesting aspect of the novel, and there's a good deal of this. From close looks at individual elements of paintings to a romp through the Sultan's treasury Pamuk comes up with a great deal of fantastic material here. And he integrates it quite well in his story.
       My Name is Red is an enjoyable and often fascinating read -- but it's also a bit slow and laboured. Some of the different perspectives are cleverly used, including the non-human voices, items that also appear in the other narratives, but not all are equally compelling. For stretches the story also plods along more slowly than one might like: Pamuk's expanisve presentation has some appeal, but he doesn't always make it easy going.
       Certainly worthwhile, but not an effortless pleasure.

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My Name is Red: Reviews: Orhan Pamuk: Other books by Orhan Pamuk under review: Other books of interest under review under review:

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About the Author:

       Internationally acclaimed Turkish author Orhan Pamuk was born in 1952. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 2006.

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