Orhan Pamuk Interview: “My Name is Red”

  Orhan Pamuk is a famous contemporary Turkish writer and winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature. His main works include the novel “My Name is Red”, “The Black Book”, “Snow” and the collection of autobiographical essays “Istanbul: Memories of a City”.
  ”My Name is Red”, published in 1998, is Pamuk’s most famous masterpiece. This work has established his status in the world literary world, and won the French “Foreign Book Award” and the Italian Grinzana Carver Award; in 2003, he won the Dublin Literary Award, a bonus of up to 100,000 euros, which is the world’s bonus. The highest literary award.
  The story takes place in Istanbul. In the late 1690s, the Sultan secretly commissioned a great book celebrating his life and empire. He recruited the best painters of the time to paint the book in a European style. However, at a time when radical fundamentalist movements flourished, it was a dangerous project. Any work of figurative art is considered incompatible with Islam. For their own safety, the artists involved in painting must create in secret. However, one of the miniature painters is still missing, presumably assassinated. At this time, their master had to seek foreign aid. Did the murdered painter die from the feud between the painters, the entanglement of love, or the violence of religion? The sultan asked to find out the results within three days, and the clues were probably hidden somewhere in the unfinished pictures in the book… In this novel, the author not only weaves a thrilling murder mystery, but also for love and art. Creation, more profound and fascinating interpretation.
  This article is Pamuk’s 2001 answer to a reader’s question about the book.
  Q : You tell the story in an extraordinary way with many tellers. In fact, no two chapters in a row use one voice. Why do you structure your novel this way? What challenges does this structure present?
  A: It was a joy to anthropomorphize my characters! I love discovering the 16th century Ottoman era miniature painter, the voice of a mother of two looking for a husband, the voice of her two children, the diabolical voice of a murderer, and a woman on the road to heaven The narration of the dead. Not only are my characters telling in my stories, but objects and colors are telling. I think all these different sounds make for a rich music – a quality of everyday life in Istanbul 400 years ago. These perspective shifts also reflect the novel’s primary focus on seeing the world from our perspective rather than through a god’s perspective. All of this has to do with the use of perspective in painting; my characters live in a world where the limitations of perspective do not exist, so they tell stories in their own voices, with their own sense of humor.
  Q: One of the characters – the youngest son of your heroine Shekulei – is named Orhan. Is he your alter ego?
  A: Orhan is not my alter ego, he is me. Most of the details and anecdotes about the lonely mother’s relationship with her son are drawn from my own experience. I also keep my mother and my brother’s names in this story. The enmity between the brothers, their constant bickering and fighting, and their negotiating peace, talking about their mother’s jealousy, are all autobiographical in nature. By incorporating details of my childhood into my historical fiction, I hope to give it a personal element.
  The challenge of writing a novel is not to describe the past perfectly, but to tell history while adding something new, enriching and changing history with imagination and the perception of personal experience.
  Q: What kind of research work do you have to do to write a novel with such rich historical detail?
  A: It took me 6 years to write this novel. Of course, I spend a lot of time reading and looking at paintings, but I rarely think of it as “research”, I always like what I see, and I always look at what I like to see. The Turks love to preserve documents, and the document of the Governor of Istanbul was well preserved and published. So at that time, I used to look at the prices of various clothes, fish, or various vegetables in the Istanbul market for hours at a time. This led to interesting discoveries, for example, I learned that barbers also perform circumcision or tooth extraction as long as the price is right.
  As for studying painting, it is more personal, because since I was 6 years old, I have always wanted to be a painter. As a child I used to copy miniature paintings from the Ottoman era that I came across when I was reading. Later, I was influenced by Western painting. When I was 20 years old, I stopped painting and started writing novels.
  Question: Can you explain that the miniature painter only reached his great heights after he lost his sight. Is there any contradiction in this?
  A: The paradox here is based on a very reasonable line of thought: if you were a medieval painter, your craft was based on imitation and repetition (rather than on innovation, as is often said now). The more you imitate, the more you repeat, the better you become. The same scenes and objects, painted over and over again, after many years, my painters began to remember. This started with the idea that a master painter does not need to see what he has created.
  Q: Does the conflict between the aesthetics of Islamic painting and the aesthetics of Western painting affect you outside of its historical significance? Are you trying to come up with something that sees the world in two different ways?
  A: Influenced by Western portraiture techniques, it is a dilemma for traditional Islamic painters, who are committed to the repetition and purification of traditional forms. Beyond that, there are two different ways of seeing, painting, and even representing the world. One is to see the world through any personal eye—to see things through our humble perspective. The other is to look at the world through the eyes of Allah, looking at the world from high above like an Islamic painter, perceiving, say, the whole scene of a battle from above. The latter is more like seeing with the eyes of the mind than with the eyes themselves.
  I just tried to tell my story in the way of these Persian masters. These two very different ways of seeing the world and telling stories are of course related to our culture, history, and identities as we now commonly call them. How big is the conflict between them? In my novels, because of this conflict between East and West, they even kill each other. But of course, I want the reader to realize that I don’t believe in this conflict. All good art is the result of the fusion of things from different roots and cultures, and I hope My Name is Red exemplifies that.
  Q: Who are the writers and artists who have influenced you?
  A: I am 48 years old, and at this age I get nervous at the thought of affecting me. I would like to say that I have learned a lot from other writers as well. I learned from Thomas Mann that the key to the joy of historical fiction is the mystery that brings the details together. Italo Calvino taught me that creation is as important as history itself. I learned from Eco that the murder mystery form can still be used so gracefully. But I learned the most from Margaret Yourcenar, who wrote a brilliant essay on tone and language in historical fiction.
  In My Name is Red, the most inspiration for me is Islamic miniature painting. Thousands of little details from the countless miniatures I’ve seen find their place in this novel. Behind these scenes of love and war, there are classic Islamic documents, because painting these miniatures is always to show the best scenes of the stories. A long, long time ago, the best scenes of these stories were remembered by everyone by heart. Now, Due to westernization, few people remember it. “My Name is Red” is a tribute to these forgotten stories and the wonderful pictures drawn for the book lovers of that era.
  Q: Your book has the largest number of first prints of any novel published in Turkey. How does this make you feel? Why do you think this novel has such broad appeal? How do you think American readers will react to the novel?
  A: When a book sells so much in my part of the world, journalists always ask about the mysteries of the sales rather than the mysteries of the fictional text. I always say, I don’t know why this book is selling so much. Nor can I predict the reaction of American readers. But I always worry about such things…and of course I feel guilty for having such worldly worries.