Sunday, April 25, 2010

My Name Is Red

The person who recommended Orhan Pamuk’s My Name Is Red confessed that it was one of the most difficult books she had read. It sounded gorgeous: told from different perspectives, including figures in ancient illuminations, a contemplative murder mystery unfolds during the Ottoman Empire’s sixteenth century. The book won the Nobel Prize in Literature, as well as a variety of other awards in multiple languages. The likes of The New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, Los Angeles Times, and The Economist Reviews cited: “A modern classic,” “a tour de force,” “Astonishing,” “magnificent,” “Shakespearean in its grandeur,” and “demonstrates the patience of … Proust and Mann, [while] his instinctive affinity lies with … Calvino and Borges.”

So instead of getting it from the library, I bought it. I love art and philosophy.

I stopped reading after 75 pages.

The story began from the fascinating viewpoint of a murdered corpse. Yet, my first doubts arose when he cadaver told about the afterlife. Instead of shedding light or adding suspense, the description of life after death merely made me think, “Well, I guess people can make up what they want when it comes to the afterlife.” After several chapters, my illusions that the book was made of interweaving threads fell away. I was reading one story, containing many different stories within it. These tales included lessons that, to me, didn’t seem particularly noteworthy. Even after gleaning the exact same lesson from five different stories.

Any depth of personality eluded me. No character held my interest. The women were objects of wit and desire, and the men were hardly more rounded. Rapists and torturers were described as enlightened and gentle. This may have been an attempt to depict the mindset of individuals at the time. Instead, the vaguely sketched characters are dull.

The translation was also off-putting. Characters speaking in formal settings dropped the f-bomb. Not the foul but the inappropriate language bothered me.

I’m sure that the characters and narration style were meant to imitate illuminations themselves as well as traditional storytelling. I’m also certain that there was a cultural difference that I was unable to overcome.

The person who recommended the book to me said that she had to put the book down for at least a year the first time she picked it up. I will also put it down for at least a year. At least.