My Name is Red, Orhan Pamuk

450 pages

My Name is Red is a Turkish novel by Nobel laureate author Orhan Pamuk.
The main characters in the novel are miniaturists in the Ottoman Empire, and the events revolve around the murder of one of the painters, as related in the first chapter. From then on Pamuk, in a postmodern style reminiscent of Borges, plays with and teases the reader and literature in general.

The novel’s narrator changes in every chapter, and in addition to character-narrators, the reader will find unexpected voices such as the corpse of the murdered, a coin, several painting motifs, and the color red. The novel blends mystery, romance, and philosophical puzzles, opening a window on the reign of Ottoman Sultan Murat III during nine snowy winter days in the Istanbul of 1591.


My Name is Red

Orhan Pamuk


You slew a man and then fell out with one another concerning him.

Koran, The Cow.

The blind and the seeing are not equal.

Koran, The Creator.”

To God belongs the East and the West.



I am nothing but a corpse now, a body at the bottom of a well. Though I drew

my last breath long ago and my heart has stopped beating, no one, apart from

that vile murderer, knows whats happened to me. As for that wretch, he felt

for my pulse and listened for my breath to be sure I was dead, then kicked me

in the midriff, carried me to the edge of the well, raised me up and dropped

me below. As I fell, my head, which hed smashed with a stone, broke apart;

my face, my forehead and cheeks, were crushed; my bones shattered, and my

mouth filled with blood.

For nearly four days I have been missing: My wife and children must be

searching for me; my daughter, spent from crying, must be staring fretfully at

the courtyard gate. Yes, I know theyre all at the window, hoping for my


But, are they truly waiting? I cant even be sure of that. Maybe theyve

gotten used to my absencehow dismal! For here, on the other side, one gets

the feeling that ones former life persists. Before my birth there was infinite

time, and after my death, inexhaustible time. I never thought of it before: Id

been living luminously between two eternities of darkness.

I was happy; I know now that Id been happy. I made the best illuminations

in Our Sultans workshop; no one could rival my mastery. Through the work I

did privately, I earned nine hundred silver coins a month, which, naturally,

only makes all of this even harder to bear.

I was responsible for painting and embellishing books. I illuminated the

edges of pages, coloring their borders with the most lifelike designs of leaves,

branches, roses, flowers and birds. I painted scalloped Chinese-style clouds,

clusters of overlapping vines and forests of color that hid gazelles, galleys,

sultans, trees, palaces, horses and hunters. In my youth, I would decorate a

plate, or the back of a mirror, or a chest, or at times, the ceiling of a mansion

or of a Bosphorus manor, or even, a wooden spoon. In later years, however, I

only worked on manuscript pages because Our Sultan paid well for them. I

cant say it seems insignificant now. You know the value of money even when

youre dead.

After hearing the miracle of my voice, you might think, Who cares what

you earned when you were alive? Tell us what you see. Is there life after death?

Wheres your soul? What about Heaven and Hell? Whats death like? Are you

in pain?Youre right, the living are extremely curious about the Afterlife.


Maybe youve heard the story of the man who was so driven by this curiosity

that he roamed among soldiers in battlefields. He sought a man whod died

and returned to life amid the wounded struggling for their lives in pools of

blood, a soldier who could tell him about the secrets of the Otherworld. But

one of Tamerlanes warriors, taking the seeker for the enemy, cleaved him in

half with a smooth stroke of his scimitar, causing him to conclude that in the

Hereafter man gets split in two.

Nonsense! Quite the opposite, Id even say that souls divided in life merge

in the Hereafter. Contrary to the claims of sinful infidels whove fallen under

the sway of the Devil, there is indeed another world, thank God, and the proof

is that Im speaking to you from here. Ive died, but as you can plainly tell, I

havent ceased to be. Granted, I must confess, I havent encountered the rivers

flowing beside the silver and gold kiosks of Heaven, the broad-leaved trees

bearing plump fruit and the beautiful virgins mentioned in the Glorious

Koranthough I do very well recall how often and enthusiastically I made

pictures of those wide-eyed houris described in the chapter That Which Is

Coming.Nor is there a trace of those rivers of milk, wine, fresh water and

honey described with such flourish, not in the Koran, but by visionary

dreamers like Ibn Arabi. But I have no intention of tempting the faith of those

who live rightfully through their hopes and visions of the Otherworld, so let

me declare that all Ive seen relates specifically to my own very personal

circumstances. Any believer with even a little knowledge of life after death

would know that a malcontent in my state would be hard-pressed to see the

rivers of Heaven.

In short, I, who am known as Master Elegant Effendi, am dead, but I have

not been buried, and therefore my soul has not completely left my body. This

extraordinary situation, although naturally my case isnt the first, has inflicted

horrible suffering upon the immortal part of me. Though I cannot feel my

crushed skull or my decomposing body covered in wounds, full of broken

bones and partially submerged in ice-cold water, I do feel the deep torment of

my soul struggling desperately to escape its mortal coil. Its as if the whole

world, along with my body, were contracting into a bolus of anguish.

I can only compare this contraction to the surprising sense of release I felt

during the unequaled moment of my death. Yes, I instantly understood that

the wretch wanted to kill me when he unexpectedly struck me with a stone

and cracked my skull, but I didnt believe hed follow through. I suddenly

realized I was a hopeful man, something I hadnt been aware of while living

my life in the shadows between workshop and household. I clung passionately


to life with my nails, my fingers and my teeth, which I sank into his skin. I

wont bore you with the painful details of the subsequent blows I received.

When in the course of this agony I knew I would die, an incredible feeling

of relief filled me. I felt this relief during the moment of departure; my arrival

to this side was soothing, like the dream of seeing oneself asleep. The snowand

mud-covered shoes of my murderer were the last things I noticed. I closed

my eyes as if I were going to sleep, and I gently passed over.

My present complaint isnt that my teeth have fallen like nuts into my

bloody mouth, or even that my face has been maimed beyond recognition, or

that Ive been abandoned in the depths of a wellits that everyone assumes

Im still alive. My troubled soul is anguished that my family and intimates,

who, yes, think of me often, imagine me engaged in trivial dealings somewhere

in Istanbul, or even chasing after another woman. Enough! Find my body

without delay, pray for me and have me buried. Above all, find my murderer!

For even if you bury me in the most magnificent of tombs, so long as that

wretch remains free, Ill writhe restlessly in my grave, waiting and infecting

you all with faithlessness. Find that son-of-a-whore murderer and Ill tell you

in detail just what I see in the Afterlifebut know this, after hes caught, he

must be tortured by slowly splintering eight or ten of his bones, preferably his

ribs, with a vise before piercing his scalp with skewers made especially for the

task by torturers and plucking out his disgusting, oily hair, strand by strand, so

he shrieks each time.

Who is this murderer who vexes me so? Why has he killed me in such a

surprising way? Be curious and mindful of these matters. You say the world is

full of base and worthless criminals? Perhaps this one did it, perhaps that one?

In that case let me caution you: My death conceals an appalling conspiracy

against our religion, our traditions and the way we see the world. Open your

eyes, discover why the enemies of the life in which you believe, of the life

youre living, and of Islam, have destroyed me. Learn why one day they might

do the same to you. One by one, everything predicted by the great preacher

Nusret Hoja of Erzurum, to whom Ive tearfully listened, is coming to pass. Let

me say also that if the situation into which weve fallen were described in a

book, even the most expert of miniaturists could never hope to illustrate it. As

with the KoranGod forbid Im misunderstoodthe staggering power of

such a book arises from the impossibility of its being depicted. I doubt youve

fully comprehended this fact.

Listen to me. When I was an apprentice, I too feared and thus ignored

underlying truths and voices from beyond. Id joke about such matters. But


Ive ended up in the depths of this deplorable well! It could happen to you, be

wary. Now, Ive nothing left to do but hope for my thorough decay, so they

can find me by tracing my stench. Ive nothing to do but hopeand imagine

the torture that some benevolent man will inflict upon that beastly murderer

once hes been caught.



After an absence of twelve years I entered Istanbul like a sleepwalker. The

earth called to him,they say of men who are about to die, and in my case, it

was death that drew me back to the city where Id been born and raised.

When I first returned, I thought there was only death; later, I would also

encounter love. Love, however, was a distant and forgotten thing, like my

memories of having lived in the city. It was in Istanbul, twelve years ago, that I

fell helplessly in love with my young cousin.

Four years after I first left Istanbul, while traveling through the endless

steppes, snow-covered mountains and melancholy cities of Persia, carrying

letters and collecting taxes, I admitted to myself that I was slowly forgetting

the face of the childhood love Id left behind. With growing panic, I tried

desperately to remember her, only to realize that despite love, a face long not

seen finally fades. During the sixth year I spent in the East, traveling or

working as a secretary in the service of pashas, I knew that the face I imagined

was no longer that of my beloved. Later, in the eighth year, I forgot what Id

mistakenly called to mind in the sixth, and again visualized a completely

different countenance. In this way, by the twelfth year, when I returned to my

city at the age of thirty-six, I was painfully aware that my beloveds face had

long since escaped me.

Many of my friends and relatives had died during my twelve-year exile. I

visited the cemetery overlooking the Golden Horn and prayed for my mother

and for the uncles whod passed away in my absence. The earthy smell of mud

mingled with my memories. Someone had broken an earthenware pitcher

beside my mothers grave. For whatever reason, gazing at the broken pieces, I

began to cry. Was I crying for the dead or because I was, strangely, still only at

the beginning of my life after all these years? Or was it because Id come to the

end of my lifes journey? A faint snow fell. Entranced by the flakes blowing

here and there, I became so lost in the vagaries of my life that I didnt notice

the black dog staring at me from a dark corner of the cemetery.

My tears subsided. I wiped my nose. I saw the black dog wagging its tail in

friendship as I left the cemetery. Sometime later, I settled into our

neighborhood, renting one of the houses where a relative on my fathers side

once lived. It seems I reminded the landlady of her son whod been killed by

Safavid Persian soldiers at the front and so she agreed to clean the house and

cook for me.



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1 Response to “My Name is Red, Orhan Pamuk”

  1. 1 Handy July 15, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    Thanks a lot for the links. I find them very useful since I am planning to work on My Name is Red for the S1 literature thesis. Regards, Handy.

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