My Name Is Red

My Name Is Red (Turkish: Benim Adım Kırmızı) is a 1998 Turkish novel by writer Orhan Pamuk translated into English by Erdağ Göknar in 2001. Pamuk would later receive the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature. The novel, concerning miniaturists in the Ottoman Empire of 1591, established Pamuk's international reputation and contributed to his Nobel Prize. The influences of Joyce, Kafka, Mann, Nabokov and Proust and above all Eco can be seen in Pamuk's work.

My Name Is Red
First edition (Turkish)
AuthorOrhan Pamuk
Original titleBenim Adım Kırmızı
TranslatorErdağ M. Göknar
GenreHistorical novel
PublisherAlfred A. Knopf
Publication date
Published in English
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages448 pp. (original Turkish) 417 pp (1st English ed.)
ISBN975-470-711-1 (original Turkish)
ISBN 0-571-20047-8 (1st English ed.)
LC ClassPL248.P34 B46 1998

The French translation won the French Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger and the Italian version the Premio Grinzane Cavour in 2002. The English translation, My Name Is Red, won the International Dublin Literary Award in 2003.[1]

In recognition of its status in Pamuk's oeuvre, the novel was re-published in Erdağ Göknar's translation as part of the Everyman's Library Contemporary Classics series in 2010. BBC Radio 4 broadcast an adaptation of the novel in 2008.

It has been translated into more than 60 languages since publication.[2]


The main characters in the novel are miniaturists in the Ottoman Empire, one of whom is murdered in the first chapter. From this point, Pamuk—in a postmodern style reminiscent of Jorge Luis Borges—plays with the reader and with literary conventions. The novel incorporates metafiction in such ways as making frequent reference to the reader and to the narrators' awareness that they are characters in a book.

Each chapter of the novel has a different narrator, and usually there are thematic and chronological connections between chapters. In addition, unexpected voices are used, such as the corpse of the murdered, a coin, Satan, two dervishes, and the color red. Each of these "unusual" narrators is contributed by specific characters, who detail the philosophical system of 16th century Istanbul. The novel blends mystery, romance, and philosophical puzzles, illustrating the reign of Ottoman Sultan Murat III during nine snowy winter days in 1591.

Enishte Effendi, the maternal uncle of Kara (Black), is reading the Book of the Soul by Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya, a Sunni commentator on the Qur'an, and continuous references to it are made throughout the book. Part of the novel is narrated by Elegant Effendi, the murdered miniaturist. Al-Jawziyya argues, in the same fashion as Islamic doctrine, that the souls of the dead remain on earth and can hear the living.

Pamuk suggests that, to some of the characters, viewing miniatures or "perfected art" is a way to achieve a kind of glimpse of eternity. Thus Shekure seeks to look upon the reader like women who view miniatures of a distant time and place do, thereby escaping time and place—"...just like those beautiful women with one eye on the life within the book and one eye on the life outside, I, too, long to speak with you who are observing me from who knows which distant time and place." Elegant Effendi accused his murderer of producing sacrilegious illustrations that offend Allah.


  • Elegant Effendi, murdered miniaturist who speaks from the afterlife to the reader in the opening chapter.
  • Kara (Black), miniaturist and binder. Recently returned from 12 years away in Persia. Nephew of Enishte ("Uncle").
  • Enishte Effendi, maternal uncle of Black, who is in charge of the creation of a secret book for the Sultan in the style of the Venetian painters.
  • Shekure, Enishte's beautiful daughter with whom Black is in love; Shekure (related to English 'sugar' refers to Shirin, meaning 'sweet', also the name of Pamuk's mother).
  • Shevket, Shekure's older son (also the name of Orhan Pamuk's older brother).
  • Orhan, Shekure's younger son (also Pamuk's first name).
  • Hasan, the younger brother of Shekure's husband.
  • Hayriye, slave girl in Enishte's household, Enishte's concubine.
  • Master Osman, head of the Sultan's workshop of miniaturists. This character is based on Nakkaş Osman.
  • Butterfly, one of three miniaturists suspected for the murders. Paints figures in the book representing Death and the Melancholy Woman.
  • Stork, one of three suspect miniaturists. Paints the Tree and the Dog.
  • Olive, one of three suspect miniaturists. Paints Satan and the two Dervishes.
  • Esther, a Jewish peddler, a matchmaker, carries lovers' letters.
  • Nusret Hoja, a Conservative Muslim leader who may be based on an historical figure. Opposes coffee and coffeehouses, bawdy stories, and figurative paintings.

Books within the book

A number of books illustrated by famous miniaturists are referenced by the characters in My Name is Red: Several of the specific manuscripts described (most prominently the "Shahnama given by Shah Tahmasp", more commonly known in the west as the Houghton shahnama) are real and survive in whole or part.

  • Book of the Soul by Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya
  • Surname-i HümayunBook of Imperial Festivities, by Nakkaş Osman (miniatures) and Seyyid Lokman Çelebi, in the story still under completion
  • Shahnameh or the Book of Kings by the Persian poet Firdawsi, is the national epic of the Persian-speaking world.
  • Chronicle of Sultan Selim
  • The Convergence of the Stars, ordered by Sam Mirza, brother of Shah Ismail
  • Hüsrev and Shirin by Persian Nizami (English: Khosru and Shireen), this love story forms the central idea behind the love story in My Name is Red
  • Book of Equines by the Bukharan scholar Fadlan (a drawing of a horse is the key to finding the murderer in My Name is Red)
  • The Illustration of Horses, three volumes on how to draw horses: The Depiction of Horses, The Flow of Horses, and The Love of Horses by Jemalettin of Kazvin
  • The Blindman's Horses, a critique on the prior three volumes, by Kemalettin Riza of Herat
  • History of Tall Hasan, Khan of the Whitesheep by Jemalettin
  • Gulestan by Sadi
  • Book of Victories with the funeral ceremonies of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent
  • Book of Skills


My Name Is Red received favourable reviews when published in English. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly admires the novel's "...jeweled prose and alluring digressions, nesting stories within stories" and concludes that Pamuk will gain many new readers with this "...accessible, charming and intellectually satisfying, narrative." A Kirkus Reviews critic describes the novel as "...a whimsical but provocative exploration of the nature of art in an Islamic society. . . . A rich feast of ideas, images, and lore." Jonathan Levi, writing in the L.A. Times Book Review, comments that " is Pamuk’s rendering of the intense life of artists negotiating the devilishly sharp edge of Islam 1,000 years after its birth that elevates My Name Is Red to the rank of modern classic." Levi also notes that the novel, although set four hundred years ago, reflects modern societal tensions. For this reason he calls it "...a novel of our time.’’

In The New York Times, Richard Eder describes Pamuk's intense interest in East-West interactions and explains some of the metaphysical ideas that permeate the novel. He also comments that the novel is not just about ideas: "Eastern or Western, good or bad, ideas precipitate once they sink to human level, unleashing passions and violence. ‘Red’ is chockfull of sublimity and sin." Eder also praises the characterization of Shekure, which he regards as the finest in the book. She is "...elusive, changeable, enigmatic and immensely beguiling." Eder concludes: "They (readers) will . . . be lofted by the paradoxical lightness and gaiety of the writing, by the wonderfully winding talk perpetually about to turn a corner, and by the stubborn humanity in the characters’ maneuvers to survive. It is a humanity whose lies and silences emerge as endearing and oddly bracing individual truths".[3]

English translation

Erdağ M. Göknar's translation of My Name Is Red gained Pamuk international recognition and contributed to his selection as Nobel laureate; upon publication, Pamuk was described as a serious Nobel contender.[4] The translation received praise from many reviewers including John Updike in The New Yorker: "Erdağ M. Göknar deserves praise for the cool, smooth English in which he has rendered Pamuk's finespun sentences, passionate art appreciations, sly pedantic debates, (and) eerie urban scenes."[5] Many readers and critics consider My Name Is Red to be Pamuk's best work in English translation.

It won the International Dublin Literary Award in Dublin in 2003,[1] where Göknar accepted the award on behalf of Pamuk. As is customary with this award,[6] Göknar received a quarter share of the prize.[7]

Release details

  • 1998, Turkey, Iletisim Yayincilik (ISBN 975-470-711-1), Pub date ? ? 1998, hardback (First edition – in Turkish)
  • 2001, USA, Alfred A Knopf (ISBN 978-0375406959), Pub date ? August 2001, hardback (1st English edition)
  • 2001, UK, Faber & Faber (ISBN 978-0571200474), Pub date 2 November 2001, paperback
  • 2002, UK, Faber & Faber (ISBN 978-0571212248), Pub date 31 July 2002, paperback
  • 2002, USA, Vintage Books (ISBN 978-0375706851), Pub date ? September 2002, paperback (Erdag Goknar translator)
  • 2008, UK, Dramatised on BBC Radio 4 in 2 parts by Ayeesha Menon, directed by John Dryden, August 2008.


  1. "2003: Winner". Archived from the original on 2009-05-03.
  3. Eder, Richard. "Heresies of the Paintbrush," The New York Times Book Review, Sept. 2, 2001.
  4. Freely, Maureen. Review of My Name Is Red, in New Statesman, Vol. 130, No. 4552, Aug. 27, 2001, p. 41, and Eder, Richard. "Heresies of the Paintbrush," in The New York Times Book Review, Sept. 2, 2001.
  5. "Vintage Catalog".
  6. "Award FAQs". Archived from the original on 2006-11-01.
  7. "Writer Pamuk lands Impac prize". BBC News. 19 May 2003. Retrieved 19 May 2003.
Preceded by
Atomised/The Elementary Particles
International Dublin Literary Award recipient
Succeeded by
This Blinding Absence of Light
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