My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

Faber and Faber, 2002, 508 p. Translated from the Turkish Benim Adim Kirmizi by Erdağ M Göknar.

My Name is Red cover

Well, this is an interesting concoction. The events take place in Istanbul in the time of Sultan Murat III. The first chapter is entitled I am a Corpse and is narrated by a murder victim. This sets up the novel as a whodunnit but Pamuk is far too subtle a writer for that to be his sole concern. The remainder of the book is narrated from a wide variety of viewpoints; several manuscript illustrators, the effectively widowed daughter of one of them, her son, her suitor, their go-between, the corpse, a dog, a tree, a counterfeit gold coin, death, the colour red, a horse, Satan – and two dervishes. In various of these the reader is occasionally addressed directly. The non-human narrators turn out to be parts of a manuscript illustration designed to show the splendour, magnificence and power of the Sultan, to impress Westerners, especially Venetians. Not a simple read then, by any means. Add to this the fact that three corpses undertake narration duties since during two of the relevant chapters the particular narrator is also killed – and describes the experience – and the artistry becomes evident.

In ways this reminded me of The Name of the Rose as it is the manuscript that is at the heart of things. So we have passages dealing with the philosophy of illustration and miniaturism, its place in the Islamic traditions, on whether or not it is blasphemy to ape the Venetian/Frankish form of realistic painting and use perspective, to show Allah’s view of the world, or the world as it is. The murders are direct consequences of this conflict. Plus there is a meditation on the acceptance of blindness as Allah’s reward to the miniaturist for his years of devotion to his art and frequent references to the Persian tales of Hüsrev and Shirin, and of Sohrab and Rüstem. There are, too, several instances of characters telling stories from the perspectives of folk named Alif, Ba and Djim. Some of these interpolations verge on the tedious but perhaps to Turkish readers they have more resonance.

The above may make it sound as if the book is difficult, but it isn’t if you are prepared to go with the flow as I was. I certainly will be reading more Pamuk, who clearly has considerable self-confidence. In what has been a feature of all his novels I have read so far there is a character named Orhan. This time it is not “Orhan Pamuk” though, but the Orhan within is eventually revealed to be the overall “author” of the book we are reading.

In the background but providing some impetus to the plot at times a preacher from Erzurum is blaming apostates and infidels for the supposed catastrophes of the last ten years and stirring up the mob. Casting blame on the other. Does this sound familiar to anybody?

Among Pamuk’s bon mots here are, “Only imbeciles are innocent,” “A letter doesn’t communicate by words alone. A letter, just like a book, can be read by smelling it, touching it and fondling it” and “Painting is the silence of thought and the music of sight.” He has the old miniaturist Osman say, “Painting is the act of seeking out Allah’s memories and seeing the world as He sees the world.” The book’s main love interest, the illustrator’s daughter, Shekure, tells us, “Marriage douses love’s flame, leaving nothing but a barren and melancholy blackness,” but, “The truth is contentment. Love and marriage are but a means to attaining it,” and that painters “substitute the joy of seeing for the joy of life.”

The translation is into USian and there were several curiosities or infelicities within it. Iron smiths may be a direct translation from Turkish but the English word is blacksmiths. Then we had, “your sympathy and understanding are much obliged,” “ the both of you,” “artists who are discontent with,” “a superior element as all of you are familiar,” “would’ve hid that picture,” a use of “plenty” where “greatly” made more sense plus the misspellings “guilded,” “descendents,” “practice” as a verb, the “pitfulls” of love and women, “imposter,” “quandries.”

Edinburgh’s Art Deco Heritage 13: Edinburgh Sports Club

This is a mainly 1930s sports club building situated just beside the Water of Leith off Belford Road near the Gallery of Modern Art. That newer entrance spoils it somewhat. The photo is a stitch to get it all in.

Far end view:-


Strong horizontals and verticals here. The canopy is good, and the blue highlighting. The windows have that “eyes poked out” look though.

Side view:-


The detailing on the main wall is good. That extension is a bit bland though.

Montgomery Scott

There is a plaque in Linlithgow which commemorates the birth of Starfleet Master Engineer Montgomery Scott, aka Scotty from Star Trek.

Here’s a photo of it.

You’ll note he was born in 2222.

Gregory’s Meridian, St Andrews

I was in St Andrews at the back end of September and spotted this on the pavement in south South Street. I don’t think I’d noticed it before. Is it relatively new?

It is Gregory’s Meridian line.

A plaque on the wall gives more information.

James Gregory looks to have been one of the 17th century’s greatest scientists. A meridian, Calculus, the diffraction grating and a type of telescope?

Friday on my Mind 109: 2 Days Monday: Do You Remember?

Well, today’s Friday; but this one takes in every day of the week.

From The Scaffold, famous for containing not only Paul McCartney’s brother, Peter Michael McCartney aka Mike McGear, but also poet Roger McGough and Tiswas stalwart John Gorman.

Their big hits were Thank U Very Much and Lily the Pink, the latter a perfect match for the Canadian Barn Dance. But I also remember fondly Do You Remember?.

Clearly (2 Days Monday, Thank U Very Much) txt spk was alive and kicking in the 60s.

The Scaffold: 2 Days Monday

The Scaffold: Do You Remember?

Edinburgh’s Art Deco Heritage 12: Gorgie Road

While walking to Tynecastle I passed two Art Deco buildings on Gorgie Road.

The first was the former Tivoli Picture House/New Tivoli Cinema.

Nice detailing on the stonework and great zig-zag pattern on the roofline above the canopied entrance. Strong horizontals elsewhere.

The opposite view:-

In the first photo you can see the terrace of shops beyond the cinema. I had to stitch two photos to get the whole row in the picture below. The building is of course not curved.

More pictures of the New Tivoli can be found on the Scottish Cinemas website.

Remembrance….. and Forgetting

This morning I read yesterday’s Long Read article in The Guardian, which was entitled The Myth of the Good War.

In it Geoffrey Wheatcroft argued that the general understanding of the two major wars of the twentieth century is somewhat skewed, with World War 1 being thought of as wasteful and useless while the Second World War (he makes a good case for that itself being two separate wars, one in Europe the other in the Pacific) is looked at as unquestionably fought in a good cause.

The contrast he highlighted in the casualty rates of the two World Wars is noteworthy. Millions more died in WW2 compared to the Great War, but the vast majority of them were civilians (figures only slightly unbalanced by the systematic slaughter of Jews by the Nazis; even taking the six or seven million killed in the Holocaust out of the equation still vastly more civilians died in the prosecution of World War 2 than in the First World War.) A good war?

And the British experience of the two wars differed. Many fewer Britons/Empire citizens died in the second war than in the first. On this last point Wheatcroft doesn’t quite bring out the fact that for most of WW2 Britain and its Empire/Dominions was a very minor combatant, with its armies not involved in the main fighting – a very different situation to, for example, 1917/18 when British/Empire/Dominion forces bore the brunt of the war on the Allied side.

Wheatcroft suggests this notion of the good war has been pernicious, leading to a willingness on the part of politicians to contemplate war far more readily than they ought – especially those who have never experienced a battlefield for themselves. Very unlike their First World War predecessors. In that war many MPs joined up, or their sons were killed – and the casualty rate for officers was higher than for other ranks.

Interzone 254, Sep-Oct 2014

Interzone 254 cover

Marielena by Nina Allan1
Noah Wahid, an asylum seeker, while waiting for his permission to remain, spends the days in an endless round of impoverished futility and seeing the face of Marielena, the girl he left behind, in nearly everyone he meets. The story hinges on Noah’s encounter with a refugee from the future.

A Minute and a Half by Jay O’Connell2
The tale of how Evan came to be in sole charge of a two year old daughter he hadn’t known about. He’s taken programmers, which, in a very intrusive info dump, we are told are able to sculpt human wetware in accordance to user input parameters. Or are they just hallucinogens?

Bone Deep by S L Nickerson
A woman with a medical condition where her flesh is turning to bone can only access the treatment she needs by having sponsors’ logos tattooed onto her. (Don’t give the buggers ideas is what I say.)

Dark on a Darkling Earth by T R Napper
In a world of perpetual war where memory has to be stored on electronic cards or it is lost, an old man falls into the orbit of a group of soldiers.

The Faces Between Us by Julie C Day
Is set in an Oregon where ghosts live on in ashes and Larry and Amber try to find the way “through” by snorting them.

Songs Like Freight Trains by Sam J Miller
Christine no longer listens to music. Ariel, her friend from her teenage years taught her the trick of time travel via song. But Christine’s daughter yearns to dance.

1 Imposter. Narrator Noah tells us his vocal command of English is not good but uses words like annunciates. Pita bread is usually spelled pitta.
2 Cannoboloid (????) I suspect this should be cannabinoid.

Tynecastle Stadium

Home of Heart of Midlothian FC, otherwise known as Hearts – aka the Jam Tarts or Jambos.

Main Stand from outside:-

Side of Roseburn Stand:-

Wheatfield Stand from Roseburn Stand:-

Gorgie Family Stand from Roseburn Stand:-

Main Stand from Roseburn Stand:-

Sarah Canary by Karen Joy Fowler

Gollancz SF Masterworks, 2012, 303 p + iii p introduction. First published 1991.

 Sarah Canary cover

One night in 1873 a woman stumbles into a Chinese railway workers’ camp in North-West USA. This is bad news for the workers as the woman is white. But she is uncommunicative, appearing only able to make unintelligible sounds. (She is later dubbed Sarah Canary due to these bird-like noises.) Chin Ah Kin is delegated to take her away from the camp to the nearest town. They both end up in a lunatic asylum, before escaping in the company of fellow inmate B J. Their adventures take them over the Pacific North-West, Sarah is kidnapped and paraded on stage as the Wild Woman of Alaska and mistaken by Adelaide Dixon for a murderess from San Francisco. Dixon is a campaigner for women’s rights – especially in the sexual area. In the Pacific North-West of the 1870s this doesn’t go down particularly well. “Adelaide was afraid that if she ever once allowed herself to feel the full range of her sexual desires that this would be a need too great for any man.” She tells Chin that the issue of the civil war had been largely sexual. In the slave system one group of men (white) had absolute power over one group of women (black).

And what has all this got to do with Science Fiction? You may well ask. Apart from a mention of a self-repairing dress which also deflects bullets and the disappearance of Sarah Canary in something approaching an insectile metamorphosis there is nothing in the text that could not be read as straightforward realism. Moreover the two characters who make these observations could be classified as mad.

Graham Sleight’s introduction to this SF Masterworks edition suggests the book is a sort of First Contact novel and contends that the text’s frequent references to butterflies can only be understood if the novel is SF. If so the Contact is so nebulous as to be non-existent. But I suppose that if, as Arthur C Clarke had it, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” then so must any advanced intelligences be unintelligible. Yet Sarah Canary does not behave like an advanced intelligence, she does not behave as intelligent at all. She might as well be an idiot. There is no attempt on her part to communicate with the other characters.

So read this as an adventure in the 1870s US, an illustration of misogyny and racism in that time and place. Or a feminist tract. Another interpretation is yielded at one point by Chin. “Sometimes one of the great dreamers passes among us… We dare not waken the dreamer. We, ourselves, are only her dreams.” And there is an explicit reference to Caspar Hauser.

Take your explanatory pick. Whatever, Sarah Canary is good, well-written stuff.

Pedant’s corner:- conspiritorial

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