“Contrary to what is commonly believed, all murderers are men of extreme faith rather than unbelievers.” (How true in today’s world, torn apart by the terrorists!) This truth uttered by Master Osman, one of the main characters of the novel, sets the tone of the plot, that beautifully dissects the minds of the master artists, caught between the urge to create something new and the obligation and fear to toe the religious line. To quote Master Osman again, “genuine artists have an instinctive desire to draw what is forbidden.” And the list of what is forbidden in Islamic art is really unending. There should be no perspectives; (“....the art of perspective removes the painting from God’s perspective and lowers it to the level of street dog”.); no shadows; no human figure occupying centre position in the painting; no painting of portraits; no imitation of Franks (Europeans) and other infidels and so on and so forth (“…using the Frankish techniques so that the observer has the impression not of as painting but of reality, to such a degree that this image has the power to entice men to bow down before it, as with icons in churches.”)
But these restrictions are nothing compared to what other strict interpreters of Islam have to impose: art should never go beyond calligraphy and ornamentation. “Painting leads to …..challenging Allah.”
Pretty confusing? Yes, all the major characters of the novel—most of them master artists of Istanbul in the 1590s—are oscillating along the many extreme views of Islamic art and life. This confusion comes to a head when the ruling Sultan commissions a book , which must contain paintings that employ techniques and methods of the Franks. Elegant Effendi, master gilder and an important member of the project , undergoes tremendous mental strife. According to him the new book that uses “science of perspective and the method of the Venetians was nothing but the temptation of Satan.” He goes on, “There’s one final picture.
In that picture Enishte (the project head) desecrates everything we believe in .”
For his mental confusion he has to pay with the price of his life and the plot of the novel revolves around solving his mysterious murder. For unraveling the truth behind the crime, the characters analyze Islamic art traditions, techniques and history threadbare. The rich treasure trove of Islamic miniature paintings is showcased in minute details to get a clue of the present crime (this is where the novel drags a bit).
A romantic angle runs along this high falutin art trail, and provides periodic relief form the dim world of the miniature artists. Shekure, exquisitely beautiful daughter of Enishte, is leading a miserable life with her two sons as her soldier husband has gone missing in one of the campaigns. Black, her cousin and one time suitor, returns to Istanbul after a gap of twelve years and kindles the old flame. But, like in the world of art, things do not go smooth and the lovers undergo a plethora of bitter experiences before achieving their union, which can best be described as a ''cripple'' one.
‘My Name Is Red’ holds a mirror to the Islamic mind: how it is colored and controlled by bigotry and how religions faith has an all-pervasive hold over Islamic life. The Western mind, nurtured in an atmosphere of liberalism and flexibility, would do well to comprehend the Islamic view of life in its entirety and stop tinkering with it at the surface level. Only then that way peaceful coexistence of the religions of the world can be ensured.