"For the sake of a delightful and convincing story, there isn't a lie Orhan wouldn't deign to tell"
Thus ends Orhan Pamuk's roller coaster philosophical and historical thriller, "My Name is Red". If there is any book which transforms words into pictures, this is it. Pamuk's knowledge and narration style are well known, but this book takes out a chapter from the time of the rule of the Ottoman Turks and weaves such an intricate web around the characters, the concept of illustration, art in general, Turkey and Islam that it is impossible not to lose yourself.
The story covers murder, love, lust, art, drama and effortlessly weaves a thrilling plot around these themes. It is amazing to see the way Pamuk traces inherent contradictions in political formations, art and religion. This, he accomplishes by framing long, winding dialogues.
The narrative style is also different as compared to other books. Sample? Check out the title of this blog-post. While reading the book you kind of feel that you are privy to the scenes that are being enacted and the characters know that they are being watched; they know that it is you, who is unabashedly watching, and they don't hold back the accussatory tone "You are watching all this aren't you? So, you must be knowing everything?"
The high-points of this book are the philosophical conversations that the characters have. The description of erotica is also of the highest class, that one yearns for such lovemaking sessions. The way the story of Husrev stealthily watching Shirin bathing in the lake under the moonlight is described, will send every man's blood racing to the intended spot!!
Of course, behind all this is the historical background of the Ottoman empire which is slowly losing the dizzying heights that it had reached. Though militarily they are yet to be conquered (that would have to wait until World War I), their art forms are under the stress of the perceived better saleability of the Frankish/Venetian style of portraiture. The Ottoman art masters do sneer at that since portraiture/idolatory is forbidden in Islam, but inside everyone of them, there is the melancholy sinking feeling that the Frankish style is the future. It is against such a background that religious fanatics, melancholy lovers, a principled and talented murderer and masters of art weave their stories.
Do read the book, its worth your time. I would also recommend you to a much better review by Chandrahas Choudhury.
As for my personal picks, these are the dialogues I liked in the book:
1. Through our colors, paints, art and love, we remember that Allah has commanded us to "See"! To know is to remember that you've seen. To see is to know without remembering. Thus, painting is remembering the blackness.
2. When I draw a magnificent horse, I become that magnificent horse.
3. When I draw a magnificent horse, I become a great master of old drawing that horse.
4. When I draw a magnificent horse, I am who I am, nothing more.