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• Saturday, September 27th, 2008

Ferit Orhan Pamuk was born in 1952 in Istanbul into a large, prosperous middle-class family, of civil engineer builders of railroads and factories from grandfather to father and uncle. He attended the American Robert College prep school in Istanbul and studied architecture at the Istanbul Technical University, which he left after three years, and instead graduated from the Institute of Journalism at the University of Istanbul in 1976. He decided to become a full-time writer, but especially a novelist.

Pamuk lived to see the change in Turkey from the conservative Ottoman traditions, giving way to western lifestyle; an East vs West theme that occurs often in his books. In 1982 Pamuk married Aylin Turegen, a historian, and a daughter, Rüya, was born in 1991,to whom he dedicated My Name is Red. Aylin and Pamuk were divorced in 2001.

In 2005 a criminal case was opened against Pamuk, for “insulting Turkishness”, based on a complaint filed by an ultra-nationalist lawyer Kemal Kerinçsiz, after he mentioned in a Swiss newspaper, the genocide of one million Armenians and the killing of 30.000 Kurds towards the end of the Ottoman Empire era, between 1915 and 1917. Pamuk was forced to flee Istanbul temporarily in 2006 because of a hate campaign against him, and took a position as a visiting professor at Columbia Univercity in New York. The charges against him were dropped in January 2006. Pamuk was made an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He currently lives in his beloved Istanbul in the same building where he was raised, and has become one of Turkey’s most famous, and most read, novelists.

Pamuk is known in Turkey as a social commentator, although he considers himself primarily a fiction writer with no political views, but he believes in freedom of speech and thought. Pamuk hopes that novels can help people to understand each other’s unique history. He said: “Obviously we cannot hope to come to grips with matters this deep merely by reading newspapers and magazines or by watching television.”

Pamuk’s bibliography is long. He became internationally known with his third novel: The White Castle, published in Turkish in 1985 and translated into English in 1992. But the real break-through came with his two novels: My Name Is Red, published in Turkish in 1998, translated into English in 2001, and Snow, published in Turkish in 2002 and translated into English in 2004.

He won several literary prizes and awards. He also won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2006. My Name is Red has been translated into 24 languages. It won the French Prix Du Meilleur Livre Etranger, the Italian Grinzane Cavour and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

My Name is Red is the story of Ottoman and Persian miniaturists and illustrators of the Ottoman court in the 16th century Istanbul, who were divided between the old and new, East and West tradition of painting,which lead to passion, violence, intrigues and murder; A killing by a fellow miniaturist out of art ideology conviction. After several narrations, the plot slowly unravels towards the end of the novel to identify the culprit of the two miniaturists, Elegant Effendi’s and Enishte Effendi’s murders.

The intensely heavy, involved subjects are divided into 59 chapters narrated by different voices: Human: Black, Shekure, Olive, Stork etc…Things: a tree,a coin. Animals: a dog,a horse. Unseen Spirits: a corpse, Death and Satan, Colour: crimson. The story thread is handed from one to the other voices, in a richly described, slow-paced novel. It’s fiction with a genuine historical background. Pamuk, throughout the novel, constantly and masterfully flows from fact to fiction. It’s a magical tale, reminiscent of The Thousand And One Nights, but with philosophical ideas about Art and the study of Islamic Illustration.

It took Pamuk six years to write My Name Is Red. He did intense research, which he said he thoroughly enjoyed. He was helped by well-preserved Ottoman records, and especially the records of the governor of Istanbul, which were well kept and published.

The first dramatic chapter of the book: “I am a corpse” sets the tone of one of the main themes of the story, the others being, religion,power, wedlock and the half-convincing romance between the two main characters, the non-charismatic Shekure, and the helplessly wandering Black,( the love story forms an integral part of the plot and the murder, and helps to break the density of the novel ). Also the very important and interesting extensive pedantic debates and views amongst the miniaturists, about how Art can be genuine and pure, the tie between God and the artist, and how the own style in Art, according to some master miniaturists, is wrong because the artist fails to paint the world as God sees it.

The very gifted miniaturists, like the Persian master Bihzad and the Ottoman master Osman and others, inflicted blindness upon themselves with a sharp needle for various reasons, in order to keep for ever in their memory the vision of God’s world, as Allah first saw it, freshly created. Or because they do not wish to be able to see anything after looking at the “Book of Kings”. Or to avoid being forced to fulfil orders received from the new masters of Herat to paint in a different style from the one they are accustomed to.

Art is noticeably the author’s subject of predilection. Pamuk who originally wanted to become a painter before deciding to dedicate his life to writing, is showing his artistic talent in his minute, colourful and vivid picture-like descriptions of Istanbul in late 16th century Ottoman era. The minutely detailed descriptions are made to look like a stroke of a paint brush. The same scenes are revisited by the writer in order to bring a new special effect.

Pamuk said: “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.”

The “Red” in the title of the novel, to which Pamuk has dedicated a whole chapter, called “I am red”, evokes the colour red used in paintings and how apprentices applied it with their refined brushes to paper, and how it was also used to decorate walls and beautiful carpets. Red is also the colour of blood shed in battles. In fact, according to the author, red can be found everywhere.

Pamuk wrote: “My Name Is Red, is the novel that perplexes my mother: She always tells me that she cannot understand how I wrote it…There is nothing in any of my other novels that surprises her; she knows that I drew upon the stuff of my own life. But in My Name Is Red there is an aspect that she cannot connect with this son she knows so well, this son about whom she is certain that she knows everything…This must, in my view, be the greatest compliment any writer can hear: to hear from his mother that his books are wiser than he is…Because as I write these words at the age of 54 in April 2007, I know that my life has long since passed its midpoint, but, having written for thirty-two years now, I believe that I am at the midpoint of my career. I must have another thirty-two years in which to write more books, and to surprise my mother and other readers at least one more time.”

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