Orhan Pamuk, My Name Is Red 

Study Guide
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Elegant Effendi, the murder victim was a painter who specialized in borders and edges. Black has recently returned to Istanbul after a 12 year absence. He is the nephew of and former apprentice to the painter Enishte Effendi (also known as Uncle), who is the father of the beautiful Shekure. She is married to a soldier, missing for four years. Shekure's brother-in-law Hasan fell in love with her and attempted to rape her one night (43-46), so she took her two sons, Shevket and Orhan, and moved back in with her father, Enishte Effendi. The Sultan has asked Enishte to produce a "secret" book, painted in the style of the Venetians. He, Elegant, and three miniature painters called Butterfly, Stork, and Olive had been working on the book at night. One of these three is supposedly the murderer. Eventually, Black will be asked to write the text for this book.

It will be helpful to read (and perhaps re-read) the "Chronology" at the back of the book.

effendi = "honored sir."
dervish: Persian for "mendicant" or "beggar," often a member of the Sufi order, a mystic who attempts to encounter God through fasting, meditation, ecstatic dance, chanting, and singing. In the eastern Turkmen areas, however, dervishes were more heretical figures, akin to shamans.

(5) Nusret Hoja of Erzurum is probably based on Mehmed of Birgi (1522-73), whose followers preached a "propaganda campaign from the pulpits of Istanbul mosques [leading] to great social upheaval, splitting the people into two groups. [These preachers] condemned all practices introduced since the time of the Prophet as 'innovation', and those who practised them as unbelievers. They announced that tobacco and coffee, and any kind of song and dance, were contrary to the religious law, and demanded the abolition of mathematics and the intellectual sciences from the medreses ["colleges]" (Inalcik 184).

(92) the Allahümme Barik prayer = in Arabic, "Labbaika, Allahumma, labbaika" ("Here I am, O God, at thy command! Here I am"), usually recited on the pilgrimage to Mecca, called the Hajj (Ruthven 36).

(109) the worship of idols in the Kaaba = The Kaaba is a cubic stone building in Mecca, site of the Black Stone, which in Muslim tradition is thought to be part of an original temple of the prophet Abraham. This stone and building are the focus of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. In 630, Mohammed destroyed some 360 idols arranged outside this building or shrine. He ordered two icons of Jesus and Mary to be preserved (Ruthven 38).

(115) Ibn Arabi = Muyhi al Din, Ibn al Arabi (1165-1240), philosopher and mystic born in Spain, and author of many works. According to Ruthven, Arabi advocated "a mystical humanism in which man is the 'microcosmic being' through which God contemplates himself, god's khalifa (vice-regent) on earth" (245). Karen Armstrong writes that Arabi "urged Muslims to discover the alam-al-mithal ['world of pure images'] within them, and taught that the way to God lay through the creative imagination. . . . Muslims had a duty to create their own theophanies, by training their imaginations to see below the surface to the sacred presence that resides in everything and everyone" (92). Armstrong then quotes the middle of the verse cited as the third epigraph of My Name is Red, Koran 2.115: "Unto Allah belong the East and the West, and whithersoever ye turn, there is Allah's countenance. Lo! Allah is All-Embracing, All-Knowing" (Pickthall 43).

(120) a Sheikhuislam = the chief interpreter of Islamic law, a high post in the Ottoman government.

(121) What does "The Night Journey" say . . . Two translations of Koran 17, verse 33:

a) "And slay not the life which Allah hath forbidden save with right. Whoso is slain wrongfully, We have given power unto his heir, but let him not commit excess in slaying. Lo! he will be helped" (Pickthall 206). b) "And do not kill any one whom Allah has forbidden, except for a just cause, and whoever is slain unjustly, We have indeed given to his heir authority, so let him not exceed the just limits in slaying; surely he is aided" (Shakir).

(123) What . . . Elegant Effendi had said was true—see p. 101.

1. Why do you think Pamuk uses multiple narrators to tell the story?

2. Give some reasons why you think Elegant Effendi was murdered.
3. Why do you think painters in this book get nervous about depicting the real world, as opposed to illustrating traditional stories? In what ways can you relate your answer to the sentence, "I don't want to be a tree, I want to be its meaning" (51). (See also p. 35.)
4. Can a single (painted) tree have meaning? (See pp. 47-51, 107-113.)

5. What sort of attraction and fear do you think the miniature painters feel when they see Venetian portraits? (See pp. 6, 26-27, 31, 50-51, 63-64, 107-113.) Why do you think they feel this way?

6. Master Osman says there are three questions one should ask to determine "how genuine a painter is" (60). Why do you think the question of an individual "style" is so important to the Master? In what ways is the question important to other characters in the book? (See pp. 17-18, 60, 62-68, 98, 107-113, 126.)

7. Why do you think "the notion of an endless time" (70) is so valued by miniaturists? In what ways might an individual or Western style of painting threaten this ideal of timelessness? (See pp. 69-75, 107-113.) In what ways might a Western style be more timeless?

8. Do think it is money alone and not style, timelessness, or "blindness" that determines the best painters? (See pp. 67-68, 73, 102-106.)

9. Why do you think blindness is "the farthest one can go in illustrating"? What do you think Master Osman means when he says "it is seeing what appears out of Allah's own blackness" (60)? In what ways is blindness a kind of silence? (See pp. 75-81.)

10. What are some similarities between love and painting? (See pp. 37-38, 39-40, 59, 115.)

11. Do you agree with the murderer that evil is "indispensable to an artist" (101)? Why do you think he says this and what do you think he means by it?

More Notes and Questions on My Name Is Red

(176) Gazzali = Abu Hamid Al Ghazzali (1058-1111), expert in Islamic law, theologian, mystic, and author of many works, most notably The Revival of Religious Sciences, which Armstrong calls "the most-quoted Muslim text after the Quran and the ahadith [sayings of the prophet]." The book "provides Muslims with a daily spiritual and practical regimen," designed to prepare them for "direct knowledge of God" (Armstrong 88). Al Ghazzali is credited with integrating mysticism "into mainstream Muslim life" (Armstrong 90).

(180) jinn = "elemental spirits" (Pickthall 416), either helpful or harmful, genies or demons.

(184) the "Family of Imran" chapter = the third sura, or chapter of the Koran. Some verses are:

125. "Yea,—if ye remain firm, and act aright, even if the enemy should rush here on you in hot haste, your Lord would help you with five thousand angels making a terrific onslaught.
126. Allah made it but a message of hope for you, and an assurance to your hearts: (in any case) there is no help except from Allah. The Exalted, the Wise . . .
145. Nor can a soul die except by Allah's leave, the term being fixed as by writing. If any do desire a reward in this life, We shall give it to him; and if any do desire a reward in the Hereafter, We shall give it to him. And swiftly shall We reward those that (serve us with) gratitude.
(191-192) Hanefi . . . Shafii creed—"By the middle of the tenth century . . . there were four recognized law schools, each regarded with Muslim egalitarianism as equally valid: the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafii and Hanbali schools" (Armstrong 65).

1. In what ways can you explain Shekure's psychology? For example, she says Black has attained " a kind of perfection" (138), yet she also says she loves Hasan (140, 214). See also pp. 45 and 212-215.

2. Why do you think Pamuk includes seemingly unnecessary crude or realistic scenes in this book? (See pp. 31-35, 148-150, 217-219.)

3. What do you think Black means when he contrasts truth with sincerity (154-55)? In what ways can artists also be truthful but insincere?

4. Why do you think the murderer tells Enishte Effendi (Uncle) his full name (156)? Why do you think the murderer wants to see the final painting? Why do you think he confesses to Uncle that he's the murderer (154-165)? Why do you think he kills Uncle? Relate your answers to the discussions of style (163, 167-68) and "respect" (170-173).

5. Why do you think this novel is titled My Name Is Red? (In what ways can you relate the meanings of red (185-188) to some meanings in the novel? (See also pp. 169, 173, 197, 208-09, 230, 250, 255, 312-313, 349, 404.)

Further Notes and Questions on My Name Is Red

(259) the celebrated poet ponders in his masnawi = Maulawna Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207-73), Sufi mystic, writer of the Masnavi (sometimes spelled Mathnawi) "which consists of six books of about 25,000 rhyming couplets." The verses express mystic "ecstasy in poetry . . . by shifting images and Aesop-like morality tales. The unity of God, perceived throughout the natural order, is constantly and paradoxically proclaimed" (Ruthven 246). Rumi's poems are quite popular today. Here's a link to some short reviews of transaltions in English.

(367) the sect of the Kalenderis = a sect of wandering dervishes who "in the eyes of the people . . . sought not fame and respect, but blame and censure . . . They avoided all forms of ostentation, all external organization and symbols, and their forms of worship were secret and esoteric. They established no links with the state and were more or less opposed to authority" (Inalcik 191). Many shaved their heads, and "some took their contempt for official Islamic mores so far as to invite accusations of debauchery" (Ruthven 257). See pp. 306-309, 369, 375, 394.

(378) the Bektashis = another unorthodox Sufi sect. The influence of shamanism is "particularly clear in [their] ecstatic dances" (Inalcik 197).

(381) verses at the end of 'The Cow' = Koran, 2.286.

6. Why do you think that Master Osman thinks that "magnificent works of art cannot be made as they once were" (233) and that "all of it'll be forgotten" (261)? (See also pp. 317-318.) In what ways are his reasons like / unlike the Enishte's reasons for saying "our methods will die out, our colors will fade" (171)?

7. Why do you think Master Osman reacts to the illustrations in the "secret" book (239, 249-251) as he does?
Why do you think Shekure fears that Black is the murderer (281-94)? Why do you think that she has the urge to return to her husband's house (293) and then does return (339-45) and then goes back with Black (345-349)? (See also her "conditions" on pp. 190-91.) In what ways might Shekure's situation be like / unlike that of the storyteller who dresses up as a woman (353-354) or like / unlike the woman in his story (355-56)?

8. Why do you think it's important that style, or a "secret signature" (253) is what reveals the murderer? (For more on style, see pp. 160-161, 252, 268-69, 287, 290, 309, 315, 318, 331-335, 375-77, 381, 391-94, 396-400.)

9. Early on the murderer says that he is "completely divided" (97). What do you think he means by that? (Look for examples of his duality.) In what ways can you relate the divisions between East and West, between Venetian and Ottoman styles, to the murderer's division? (For East / West, see pp. 161, 230, 287, 354, 400.)

10. Name some differences between blindness and sight. (See pp. 80-81, 285-87, 321-24 [Bihzad]; 76-77, 311-12 [Sheikh Ali].) Why do you think the verse "the blind and the seeing are not equal" (Koran 35.19; 287, 380) is important to the miniaturists?

11. Why do you think Master Osman scrapes away the eyes in some paintings (321)? Why do you think Master Osman blinds himself (321-24)? Why do you think Black and the others blind the murderer (388-97)?

12. The story of Ibn Shakir inventing Islamic painting is referred to at least three times—pages 69-70, 329-30, and 400. What do you think is the point of the story each time it is told or alluded to? Why do you think Pamuk repeats or elaborates this and other stories and motifs?

13. Why do you think so many characters resort to violence towards the end of the book? (See pp. 346-335, 360-65 [Butterfly], 372-73 [Stork], 387-405 [Black, the murderer, and Hasan].) In what ways might the violence relate to divided selves, or the division between East and West? (See questions 9-10.) Who or what do you think is ultimately responsible for this violence? In what ways might Master Osman be responsible? (See pages on fathers—295, 311, 335-36, 376-77, 395-96.)

14. In what ways are the murderer and Hasan alike? cf. 367. Why do you think Pamuk resolves the murderer's and Hasan's stories as he does?

Works Cited


"Listen to the Damned" (an op-ed article by Pamuk on the aftermath of 9/11)

"Bridging Two Worlds" (an interview with Orhan Pamuk on PBS)

Pamuk's publisher has a very good site on My Name Is Red:

Miniature Paintings Venetian Painting
Gentile Bellini (Olga's Gallery)
Sultan Mehmet II. 1480. Oil on canvas. 70x52cm. National Gallery, London, UK.
A Turkish Janissary. British Museum, London, UK

Giovanni Bellini

Portrait of a Young Man in Red, c. 1480 (National Gallery, Washington, DC)
Man with a Turban, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.
The Presentation at the Temple, approx. 1459, Galleria Querini Stampalia at Venice.


Cardinal Pietro Bembo, c. 1540
Ranuccio Farnese, 1542
Doge Andrea Gritti, 1546-1548 (National Gallery, Washington, DC)

Georgetown University reads and hosts Pamuk The Ottomans (Richard Hooker, WSU)
Selim II
Explore Istanbul.com (nice tourism site)

Turkey: A Country Study (Library of Congress--scroll down for links to the Ottoman Empire)

A review that emphasizes historical aspects of the novel

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