Who else but Orhan Pamuk could take a conflict between artistic styles (the naturalistic realism of the West and the stylized portraiture of the medieval Islamic world) and turn it into a gripping murder mystery that teaches one about history at the same time? This imaginative novel takes place in Ottoman Istanbul during the late 1500's, where one of the Sultan's miniaturists has been murdered. There are a few suspects, namely the other miniaturists of the Sultan's workshop, who are all working together on a book for the Sultan. As the plot deepens, we fall deeper into the rabbit hole, and the novel spins more and more out of control. It ends up being as much about the philosophy of art's powers of representation as it does about the murder.
What makes this book even more interesting is the stylistic technique Pamuk employs. Each chapter has a different narrator. Each narrator has his/her/its own voice, and speaks as frankly as that character might to the reader. Although most of the narrators are major and minor characters of the book, there are also chapters narrated by inanimate objects - the color Red, an old coin, etc. These chapters help the reader unravel the murder mystery that is the ostensible heart of the novel but in doing so bring us closer to the heart of Pamuk's views on art.
To be truthful, as I got closer to the climax of the murder mystery, I became much less interested in the plot in and of itself, because I was so distracted by the passages of objects and painters delivering their conflicting philosophies on the role of the artist and of art. Near the end of the book, it all becomes a jumbled mess, even as everything becomes clearer on an underlying level. The last few chapters definitely needed to be re-read in order to make sense of both the plot, and the philosophical discussion going on. All in all, though, this book was and is definitely worth the time if you're interested in a discussion about art that includes but is not limited to classical European modes of representation.
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Avid book reader who's overwhelmed by all the words out there. Always looking for a recommendation of what to read next. I oscillate between reading "classics" that I feel I … more
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