The “My Name Is Red” as title already made me, a devout reader, hooked. Is it Red the Color of Anger? Is it someone named Red? Is “Red” a Turkish word with a whole different meaning that I don’t understand? Not only that, the author is a Nobel Prize winner in Literature. The story is also about Islam and its view about drawings and paintings. Last but not least, the starting chapter: I Am A Corpse, which is a chapter about a corpse telling us about his murder. Say whaatt? Yes, I will read you through and through, my darling.
Using metafiction here and there (a term I understand after seeking guide of the story, because it is not an easy read for me, which is basically a narrative techniques where (two of the example) the characters in the book realize that they are just characters or where “a story about a writer who creates a story”–you get the idea). Just like me will always reminding you that I am a reader, a confused one, after reading this story.
Why did I become confused? Mainly because I don’t really understand Turkish culture, especially Ottoman Turkish one. What is miniaturists? What’s the difference between miniaturists and painters and drawers? What is binder? Why everyone has Effendi as their last name? Who is the murderer of the corpse in the first chapter? Why Black (original: Kara)’s name is specially translated? Why the author loves to make lists?
So here is the list of the answers which hopefully will help the reader to understand the story. Well, it actually a list for myself, who, after doing some googling, became less confused than the beginning.
1. When I first heard the word “miniaturists”, I immediately think about the 3D miniature of some place. I was wrong. Miniature, especially in Ottoman era, is a form of art that made by several people in a team and really reject the idea of individualism aka artistic style. It is actually paintings on paper or golden leaf, and actually a highly-valued art at that time. Only Sultan and rich people can afford it. Miniatures sometimes is used to express a famous story, like Layla and Majnun or Husrev and Shirin. It is the main theme of the story, which intertwined with Islam’s idea about drawings and unfolds slowly as the story progress.
Example of Ottoman miniature: “Nizami – Khusraw discovers Shirin bathing in a pool” by Nizami – page detail. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
2. Ottoman Turkey had their own naming system which is a bit different than what we usually know. Some of the recurring names are Effendi (more than 2 characters), Chelebi, Pasha, and Hoja. They are placed after the first name, like Black Effendi and Elegant Effendi (Elegant actually not a real name, it was just a nick name). Turns out that those names are actually titles and it is common at that time to refer at those words in place of family names. Effendi is like “Master” or “Lord”, Hoja is “teacher” or “adviser of Sultan” (Maybe like Haji in Indonesia?). Source.
3. The detective story about who murdered the corpse in the first chapter is also the main theme. The murderer himself allowed us to guess who he is by his choice of words (he has his own chapters). I failed, lol. But the author has an excellent way to disclose who the culprit is until the story is almost finished.
My Name Is Red is not an easy read for me. The words are relatively difficult so the dictionary is a must (for me). The cultural gap also make it worse. Sometimes I hate Shekure. I only wish that the author or the translator making some footnotes here and there to explain the culture.. Or maybe there is an illustrated edition?
However, it is a good read, like the site I am writing the review.