(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

A dead man calls out from the bottom of a well, into which his battered body had been dumped. The souls of the dead can still interact with the living in the world of late sixteenth century Istanbul, the center of the Ottoman Empire.

A former miniaturist apprentice named Black returns to Istanbul after a twelve-year absence to visit his uncle Enishte Effendi, also his former teacher. Black learns that miniaturist Elegant Effendi has been missing and may have been harmed. He also learns that Enishte Effendi has been secretly commissioned by the sultan to illustrate a book in the European manner to extol the glories of the sultan and his reign. The plan is for this illustrated volume to be presented to Western diplomats to circulate through Europe as evidence of Sultan Murat III’s power, wealth, and intellect.

While Black and Enishte Effendi are discussing art in general as well as the sultan’s secret commission (an open secret at the sultan’s court), a messenger arrives with news that Elegant Effendi has in fact been murdered and that his corpse has been found at the bottom of a well. Murat is angry that one of his illustrators has been murdered. As a knowledgeable outsider, Black is charged with finding the murderer within three days, or he will suffer the consequences. Disturbing his mental equilibrium even further, Black catches a glimpse of Shekure, Enishte Effendi’s widowed daughter. Black has long been infatuated with Shekure and devises strategies to be alone with her so that he might declare his love, a passion about which Shekure is ambivalent.

Black interviews all the illustrators attached to the sultan’s court, men he had known as boys when they all apprenticed together. Black attempts to ascertain which camp each illustrator falls into—traditionalist or innovator. He needs to know the...

(The entire section is 754 words.)


In My Name is Red (1998), Orhan Pamuk skillfully weaves a tale of love, art, mystery, and murder through multiple narrative voices of characters in the novel. Set in the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul during the late 1500s, the story revolves around the murder of one of the miniaturists, Elegant Effendi, who has been commissioned by Enishte Effendi to help paint a manuscript detailing the reign of the Sultan. While the master painters look for Elegant’s murderer, a tale of romance unfolds. Enishte Effendi’s nephew Black returns from abroad and immediately resumes his love for his cousin Shekure. She, however, has already been married and abandoned with two sons by her husband who has gone off to war. Black enlists the services of a local letter carrier, Esther, to gain the heart of Shekure through romantic words and propositions. Meanwhile, Enishte Effendi hires Black to investigate the death of Elegant and to help finish the manuscript in the absence of the dead miniaturist.

Black proceeds to visit the homes of Master Osman’s three revered miniaturists who have been helping Enishte Effendi with the Sultan’s manuscript. Affectionately nicknamed Butterfly, Stork, and Olive, the three miniaturists divulge tales to Black that outline the tension between the traditional artistic style of flat, mimetic representation and the new Venetian style of dimension and difference. Brought into question is the issue of personal style and the conflict between old and new, East and West.

While Black attempts to uncover any secrets that the three miniaturists hold, he also pursues Shekure and attempts to win her heart. Shekure, however, feels that she must protect her own position and procure the best situation for herself and her two sons. Her in-laws will not fully release her from their family, and her brother-in-law Hassan attempts to take her hand in his brother’s place. Although Shekure wants to remain in her father’s home, she cannot help but feel sorry for Hassan and, therefore, does not refuse his letters. Eventually, however, she gives in to Black’s advances and concocts a plan to divorce her husband. She and Black wed in a hasty ceremony.

As the story continues, Enishte Effendi gets ever closer to finding Elegant’s murderer when suddenly he himself is murdered by a visitor to his home. Afterward, the Sultan calls for a thorough investigation, threatening to torture all the miniaturists if the murderer is not found. In a surprising turn of events, the murderer is discovered, calling into question the nature of artistic style and its relationship to the divine.

My Name is Red was awarded the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2003. The novel was also a contributing factor in Orhan Pamuk’s being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006. My Name is Red has been translated from Turkish into multiple languages and remains Pamuk’s most internationally acclaimed work.