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Invitation to World Literature

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Experts' View: The Novel as a Gallery

An excerpt from My Name Is Red, by Orhan Pamuk
Black's uncle, Enishte Effendi, reflects on a trip to Venice:

"Over a period of days we're told he stood before thousands of portraits. He saw thousands of framed faces depicted on stretched canvas or wood or painted directly onto walls. Each one was different from the rest. They were distinctive unique human faces he said. He was intoxicated by their variety, their colors, the pleasantness, even severity of the soft light that seemed to fall on them and the meaning emanating from their eyes as if a virulent plague had struck. Everyone was having his portrait made."

Michael Barry:

"At one point Black's uncle, Enishte, describes the sense of wonder at encountering the new painting style he's discovering as an ambassador to Venice. People are both attracted and a little bit wary of these influences coming almost like a plague, almost like a disease, influenced like an influenza."

Christopher Lydon:

"The fact that individual painters have signed their work, sometimes with bravado, and that people are kind of coming out, coming forward, coming expressively to the fore, into your face from those canvasses—that's not the way those Islamic miniatures work."

David Damrosch Sums It Up:

Pamuk's own artistic technique in this novel is a fascinating combination of "Eastern" and "Western" techniques. The first chapter ends with the murdered miniaturist Elegant Effendi claiming that his story is beyond the power of art to represent: "If the situation into which we've fallen were described in a book, even the most expert of miniaturists could never hope to illustrate it." Pamuk's novel is a gallery of miniatures, each of its fifty-nine chapters another glowing portrait in a few pages, and at the same time all of these spots in time form a mosaic built up to create a panoramic landscape, a sprawling historical novel in the grand style, overlaying East and West, past and present, mysterious obscurity and radiant vision.