Elegant is a gilder who, at the time the novel begins, has just been murdered. For 25 years he has worked alongside the three master miniaturists (Olive, Butterfly, and Stork), but… read analysis of Elegant
The murderer is the anonymous killer of both Elegant and Enishte. Throughout the novel, the murderer’s identity is kept a secret, and only at the very end (spoiler alert!) does the reader discover that… read analysis of The Murderer
Sultan Murat III
Sultan Murat III is the ruler of the Ottoman Empire at the time the book is set. Of all the Ottoman Sultans, he is the most enthusiastic about miniaturist painting, and he commissions many books… read analysis of Sultan Murat III
Nesrut, Hoja of Erzurum
The Hoja of Erzurum is a fanatical preacher who denounces everything from coffee to musical instruments to tolerance of Christians, and he blames all of the Ottoman Empire’s problems on these (often minor) sins. His… read analysis of Nesrut, Hoja of Erzurum
Shekure is the 24-year-old heroine of the story. Everyone who has seen her thinks that she is the most beautiful woman in the world. Her cousin Black falls in love with her when she is… read analysis of Shekure
Enishte is Shekure’s father and Black’s uncle. The word “Enishte” actually means uncle, but Enishte is called this by everyone, not just Black. Enishte adores books and illustration, and, in his younger years, he was… read analysis of Enishte
The Storyteller is a local man who, at night, entertains the patrons of the coffeehouse by impersonating different people, animals, and things. His impersonations include the dog, the tree, the coin, Death… read analysis of The Storyteller
The dog is one of the characters the storyteller impersonates at the coffeehouse. He speaks resentfully about how dogs are treated in Istanbul and the fact that some people think that dogs are dirty… read analysis of The Dog
Master Osman is the Head Illuminator of the royal workshop and the most senior and respected master miniaturist. He is a fierce defender of the traditional style of miniaturist painting and he dreads the encroachment… read analysis of Master Osman
The soldier is Shekure’s first husband, who is never named and never takes an active role in the narrative. He is the brother of Hasan and the father of Shevket and Orhan. He is… read analysis of The Soldier
Orhan is the younger of Shekure’s two sons, and is six years old at the time the novel is set. Orhan is loving and loyal to his mother and he often fights with his older… read analysis of Orhan
Shevket is the oldest son of Shekure, and is seven years old when the story takes place. Shevket is stubborn and rebellious, often causing trouble for his mother. He dislikes Black based on the… read analysis of Shevket
Butterfly is one of the three master miniaturists trained by Master Osman and recruited by Enishte to work on the Sultan’s secret book. Extraordinarily handsome, his personality is defined by his desire to please… read analysis of Butterfly
Olive is another of the master miniaturists trained by Master Osman. He is the only miniaturist whose real name, Velijan, is provided in the book. He comes from a long line of Mongol illustrators… read analysis of Olive
Stork is the third master miniaturist, and his nickname refers to his tall, thin figure. He is greedy, conceited, and ruthlessly ambitious, and he hopes to succeed Master Osman as Head Illuminator after Osman’s death… read analysis of Stork
Hasan is the brother of Shekure’s first husband. He is desperately in love with Shekure and hopes to marry her, since his brother has disappeared. However, while Shekure is living in Hasan’s house and… read analysis of Hasan
The father of Hasan and Shekure’s first husband is never named, although Esther mentions that he is polite and kind, and he is clearly a loving grandfather to Shevket and Orhan. He initially attempts… read analysis of Hasan’s Father
Esther is a large Jewish woman who works as a clothier and lives in the Jewish Quarter of Istanbul with her husband, Nesim. She is something of a professional busybody; women from all over… read analysis of Esther
The tree is an illustration that the storyteller impersonates during one of his performances at the coffeehouse. The tree describes how it was once part of a larger story but was separated from the… read analysis of The Tree
The coin is another character that the storyteller impersonates at the coffeehouse. The coin initially boasts about being a genuine gold coin, before confessing that it is, in fact, a counterfeit. It meditates on… read analysis of The Coin
The storyteller also impersonates Satan, who claims to want to clarify false rumors about him. Satan argues that people are too quick to blame their sinful behavior on him, and that, in fact, most of… read analysis of Satan
The Color Red
The storyteller narrates a chapter of the book from the perspective of the color red. In this chapter, red says that it is glad to be a “fiery and strong” color, and it also reflects… read analysis of The Color Red
The storyteller’s penultimate tale is told through the perspective of two dervishes who are drawn by a traveling Frank. The Frank chooses to depict them because he can earn more money by illustrating the “worst”… read analysis of Two Dervishes
Hayrire is an enslaved woman, owned by Enishte, who runs his household and helps take care of Shevket and Orhan. She and Enishte secretly sleep together, and she is devastated after his death. Shekure is suspicious of her and treats her cruelly.
Nesim is Esther’s husband. We learn little about him, though Esther sometimes mockingly suggests that she wishes she weren’t married.
Nuri is one of the miniaturists who works in the royal workshop. He helps show Black around during his visit.
The storyteller impersonates an illustration of Death. Death claims that the unnamed miniaturist who illustrated it regretted what he did and feared that he had become what he drew.
The horse is another of the storyteller’s characters. The horse boasts of how proud it feels to have been painted so often, and it provocatively suggests that the European style of painting is actually more in keeping with the doctrines of Islam than the miniaturist tradition.
Black seeks the help of a local imam (Islamic religious leader) in order to legally certify Shekure’s widowhood and then marry Shekure. The imam is initially resistant to providing these services, but he is happy to help after Black bribes him.
The Head Treasurer Hazim Agha
The Head Treasurer oversees the Royal Treasury, and he permits Black and Master Osman to look through the treasury’s contents during their quest to find the murderer.
The Commander of the Imperial Guard
The Commander is another of the Sultan’s high-ranking officials.
Kabilye is Elegant’s wife. She is fiercely loyal to her husband and she is distrustful of Shekure and the miniaturists.
Jemzi Agha is a dwarf who guards the books in the Royal Treasury. He tells Black and Master Osman that the spirits of the objects in the treasury whisper to each other at night.
Butterfly is married to an unnamed beautiful woman with whom he has a mischievous, playful relationship. When Butterfly pins Black to the ground at their home, he imagines the act as a kind of performance to titillate his wife.