Orhan Pamuk unravels acclaimed novel in Istanbul

Turkey’s Nobel-winning author Orhan Pamuk met a packed Istanbul crowd on Tuesday as his widely acclaimed book, My Name is Red, turned 21.

Pamuk was speaking at a panel discussion on the newly-published, Writings on My Name is Red, a book combining 21 articles from various critics and writers as well as an interview with the Turkish author.

The book’s editors, Erkan Irmak and Feride Cicekoglu, who also contributed with two articles, accompanied Pamuk during the panel discussion.

Istanbul native Pamuk began his speech by projecting a miniature depicting Husrev and Shirin, a 12th-century Persian love story by poet Nizami Ganjavi.

A miniature is an art form of the medieval period that realistically portrayed events while adhering to the traditional rules of Islamic art, as Islam bans figuration.

“This miniature is important to me,” Pamuk said. “It is important to tell a story by looking at a miniature, and that a miniature is the beginning of a story.”

“In my case, it is beginning of a novel,” he added.

Noting how he was inspired by classical texts when he began writing his novel, the novelist said: “But in the classical texts, Shirin falls in love with Husrev when she sees his miniature for the third time. I didn’t want to use this tale. I was writing a contemporary novel using old stories, and wanted them to fall in love at first sight.”

He added that the title of his novel had originally been “Love at first sight” when he first began writing it roughly 25 years ago.

My Name is Red was published in 1998 and translated into English three years later, as well as over 50 languages since then. The book sold around 5 million copies around the world, according to Pamuk’s publisher, Yapı Kredi Culture Arts and Publishing.

According to Yapi Kredi, Pamuk described the book as his “most colorful and optimistic novel.”

Set in 16th century Istanbul, My Name is Red tells its story from the different perspectives of a myriad of characters, including a gold coin, the color red and some corpses.

– East and West

When asked about themes such as Western and Eastern civilizations in his books, Pamuk said that although cultures were the sources that inspired writers, he “hates” views that saw one identity as superior to others.

“Yes, I look for trouble and wrote East-West themed novels but my understanding of East and West is not such that sees one as better or worse — one that I like more or less,” he stressed.

“Actually, people like us living in Istanbul can not be like this,” Pamuk said, adding: “Maybe we are the only nation in the world who should not ask this question because we can take whatever we want from both sides as it suits us with pleasure and we don’t make it a problem.”

“That is a huge privilege for us,” the author added.

Located between Asia and Europe, Turkey is described by many as a “bridge between East and West” and a connection between the civilizations. The East-West dichotomy is one of the most common issues Pamuk focuses on in his works.

His books, My Name Is Red and Snow, became the most translated and read Turkish works in history.

When Pamuk won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006, the Swedish Academy said: “In the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city, he has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures.”