- My Name Is Red is a work of historical fiction, a sometimes denigrated genre that author Henry James described as “fatally cheap” (a quote cited by Orhan Pamuk himself in lectures). Pamuk actually first began the novel in a contemporary setting and changed it to a historical setting only after that false start, and has noted that, “history is an excuse for talking about today in a disguised form and to see the problems differently.” How do the concerns of the novel resonate with the period in which the novel was written, 1990-1992 and 1994-98, the dates Pamuk specifies in the novel? Could the novel have been set in those years? What might have changed?
- In the center of the book, the story of Sheikh Muhammad the Master of Isfahan is retold. Turning on his work, the master burned his library to destroy his art, and spent years hunting down his own works to eliminate them. Yet even after the originals were destroyed, he discovered that generations of artists had adopted the models of the art he had renounced. “Over long years, as we gaze at book after book and illustration after illustration, we come to learn the following: A great painter does not content himself by affecting us with his masterpieces, he succeeds in changing the landscape of our minds.” Western readers are more likely to imagine the ideal of painting as growing out of the traditions of the Venetian artists and the Renaissance. Is that how a reader in Iran or Afghanistan would see the book? How can we enter into the world of the characters in the novel, for whom the Italian art is new in a shocking and modern way?
- In a broader sense, history relates that many aspects of culture and identity—sometimes of a whole people—are destroyed over centuries of political, religious, and cultural upheaval, certainly a truth of Pamuk’s era and region. What does it mean that what lasts is the “changed landscape of our minds”? Many of the works in Invitation to World Literature, from Gilgamesh onward, are an artifact of a changed landscape. In the context of the themes of the novel, what does it mean for a literary work to endure in this way?
- Early in the book, Elegant Effendi says this story couldn’t be illustrated, and yet an illustrated version of the book has now been created in conjunction with the Chinese edition, published in a culture with its own rich tradition of illustrated books. Could an English illustrated edition be created? Could this novel be turned into a film? What would be gained or lost? Who would star in the film?
I’m not sure if anyone knows about this novel but if you do it’s better for you.