My Name is Red

My Name is Red

My Name is Red Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Orhan Pamuk's My Name is Red. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Orhan Pamuk

Orhan Pamuk grew up in an affluent, Westernized district of Istanbul called Nisantasi. When he was young, he dreamed of becoming a professional artist. He studied at the American Robert College and Istanbul Technical University, but dropped out of his architecture program there in order to enroll in the journalism program at Istanbul University. At 23, he decided to become a novelist, and moved in with his parents in order to focus on his writing. His first book, Cevdet Bey and His Sons, was published seven years later in 1982, and received critical acclaim. Since then, he has published 19 books in total, most of which have been translated into English (as well as many other languages). Pamuk’s novels often explore the meeting of Eastern and Western cultures epitomized in the city of Istanbul. He is a vocal critic of the Turkish government, speaking out against restrictions on freedom of expression and against the state’s treatment of Kurds. In 2006 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He currently holds the position of Robert Yik-Fong Tam Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University.
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Historical Context of My Name is Red

The book is set during the heyday of the Ottoman Empire, a Sunni Muslim empire that existed from 1300-1922 and extended through Southeastern Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. Between 1370-1526, the Timurid Dynasty ruled Persia and Central Asia and fostered a vibrant revival of intellectual and creative activity, including miniature painting. At the time My Name is Red takes place in 1591, the leader of the Ottoman Empire was Sultan Murat III, who is a character in the novel. Murat was a particularly enthusiastic patron of miniature painting, and he commissioned several books to be painted by painters employed by the Ottoman court. When Murat died in 1595, he was succeeded by his son, Mehmed III.

Other Books Related to My Name is Red

Pamuk’s work (My Name is Red in particular) is often compared to the work of the Italian author Umberto Eco. Eco’s novels The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum similarly weave complex historical and philosophical themes into fictional narratives. Pamuk’s use of intertextuality (inserting references and snippets of other texts into the novel) is reminiscent of postmodern writers such as Jorge Luis Borges. Pamuk’s imaginative use of different narrative voices seems to take direct inspiration from James Joyce’s Ulysses, and the sinister, philosophically resonant plot evokes the work of Franz Kafka. Pamuk himself has admitted that My Name is Red was influenced by the historical fiction of Italo Calvino, Thomas Mann, and—most of all—Marguerite Yourcenar, whose novel The Memoirs of Hadrian is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of historical fiction written in the 20th century.
Key Facts about My Name is Red
  • Full Title: My Name is Red (Turkish: Benim Adım Kırmızı)
  • When Written: 1990-92, 1994-98
  • Where Written: Istanbul, Turkey
  • When Published: 1998 (English translation 2001)
  • Literary Period: Contemporary Turkish fiction
  • Genre: Historical thriller
  • Setting: Istanbul, Ottoman Empire, 1591
  • Climax: When Black forces the needle into Olive’s eyes and Olive confesses that he is the murderer.
  • Antagonist: The murderer / Hasan / The Hoja of Erzurum
  • Point of View: 12 different first-person narrators

Extra Credit for My Name is Red

Positive thinking. Despite the prominence of murder and death in the narrative, Pamuk calls My Name is Red “my most colorful and optimistic novel.”

Miniature painting on display. Nowadays, collections of Ottoman illuminated manuscripts can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the British Library in London, and the Topkapı Palace Museum in Istanbul.