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Study Guide to Pamuk, My Name is Red

Written by eastern writer on Friday, May 23, 2008

Characters:
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.

Notes:
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.

Questions
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?

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