The tree admits that it is lonely, and asks the audience to drink their coffees and listen to its story. The tree has been sketched onto a rough piece of paper to hang behind the master storyteller, and there are no other trees around. The tree wishes it were part of a book; as it is, there is a chance that infidels will worship the tree where it hangs alone (a prospect the tree secretly enjoys). The tree doesn’t know where it belongs because it was supposed to be part of a story, and wishes to explain how it fell out of that story. 40 years ago, the Persian Shah Tahmasp, a patron of the arts and enemy of the Ottomans, stopped drinking coffee, so “naturally, his brain stopped working.” Later, he was possessed by a jinn and denounced “wine, handsome young boys, and painting,” which the tree takes as evidence that he had truly gone mad. As a result, the miniaturists, calligraphists, and bookbinders all scattered to seek work elsewhere. The Shah’s son-in-law, Sultan Ibrahim Mirza, commissioned an illustrated manuscript of the poet Jami’s Seven Thrones; this infuriated the Shah, who banished the Sultan to a small town called Sebzivar.
It is clear from the tree’s mention of coffee and the storyteller makes it clear that the storyteller is impersonating the tree just as he did the dog. Once again, there are several layers of metafiction (stories-within-stories) at play in this chapter. The novel itself is an obviously work of fiction, and within that story the storyteller is narrating as the tree. Another layer is added when the tree tells the story about the Persian Shah Tahmasp and the Sultan Ibrahim Mirza, and even within this story there are mentions of other stories, such as Jami’s “Seven Thrones.” The result is a Russian doll effect, and each story becomes intimately intertwined with the other layers of storytelling that surround it. In this way, Pamuk demonstrates how important storytelling is to Istanbul culture and to the creation of Ottoman identity.
Thanks to the Sultan’s librarian, work on the book continued, and was performed by the very best artists who were now spread all over the land. As a result, different pages of the manuscript were carried long distances by messengers, including the picture of the tree. One night, the messenger carrying the tree was ambushed by thieves who robbed, raped, and killed him. The tree fell from its page and therefore does not know which story it was intended to illustrate. One of the thieves sold the tree to a man who eventually died of grief, and the tree was sold again, this time to the storyteller. Last night the storyteller told the audience about the dog and the Hoja of Erzurum, and the tree mockingly suggests that the audience misunderstood the storyteller’s words. He promises to set the record straight by telling the story of “the Cross-Eyed Nedret Hoja of Sivas.”
The tree’s story contains both serious and satirical elements. The story of the Shah and the Sultan illustrates the negative impact of religious orthodoxy on the arts. It also a highlights a sense of hypocrisy or misguidance in condemning things like coffee and painting when the world is full of people who rob, rape, and murder others. At the same time, the story is also comic, particularly when it comes to the section about the Hoja of Sivas, who is obviously a thinly-veiled version of the Hoja of Erzurum.
The Nedret Hoja of Sivas denounced painting, seducing “pretty boys,” and coffee. The tree says that one of its branches is bent, and this is because an enormous man once climbed up into it and had sex with the Hoja of Sivas there. Later, the tree realized the giant man was actually the Devil, and as he had sex with the Hoja he whispered in his ear: “Coffee is a sin, coffee is a vice…”. The tree moves on to describe the realist style of European painting, and the fact that European women walk around “freely” in the street. The tree suggests that more “expert” painters may think that painting must be in the most vivid, realistic style possible, but that the tree itself is glad to not have been depicted in such a way. It concludes: “I don’t want to be a tree, I want to be its meaning.”
This part of the story also mixes comedy and seriousness, although this time the order is reversed. The absurd and satirical story about the Hoja and the Devil emphasizes the perversity of prosecuting coffee in comparison to other vices, and even suggests that denouncing innocent activities is the Devil’s way of distracting Muslims from real moral problems. The ending of the chapter is significant, as it contains one of the most important justifications for non-realist painting—the fact that this style arguably better conveys meaning than realism.