My Name Is Red

Here’s a prior post in my other blog –  Long Ago and Far Away:

My Name is Red

 

In a prior post I explained that I do not intend to write proper reviews of books. I also mentioned that for a book to receive five stars from me, it would have to be more than entertaining and well written. It must also stick with me past the final page. Some books are technically perfect but forgettable. Others are unforgettable but could do with another hard edit, or they have some niggling thing that prevents the perfect 10 in my eyes. And, as I explained, trying to review books as a beginning novelist just feels awkward.

I don’t generally read reviews either. When I choose a book (or film) I like to know as little as possible before I begin. I don’t even read back covers. Writers work incredibly hard to create a story that unfolds and reveals information in exactly the right way. I hate to miss that experience by knowing anything before the writer wants me to. Tell me the genre and the period and that you recommend it – let the writer do the rest.

However, I would like to use this blog to make observations about various books and invite dialog on certain aspects. Which brings me to these thoughts about My Name is Red.

My Name is Red appears on many historical fiction “must read” lists and is set in a time/place which is well off the beaten path. So it seemed a good candidate for a lover of long ago and far away tales. Also, although 16th century Istanbul is many hundreds of years and miles from my current period of study – for my interests, that’s really close!

This murder/mystery was written in Turkish by Orhan Pamuk, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature. With all the accolades, I figured I’d better read this and was excited to find something so intriguing.

At the time I read it, I was working about 60 hours per week at a brutal day job. I think it took me four months of dozing off before bed to get through this book. At times it was only the need to finally learn the identity of the murderer, and my general reluctance to ever abandon a book, that kept me going. (Don’t worry, no spoilers here. After all of that, I can’t remember who the murderer turned out to be.)

Many aspects of the book appealed to me: as an artist, I loved that the story is set among a community of miniaturist painters; the structure, voice and non-western worldview is compelling; the characters are complex and therefore unsentimental in their portrayal. But I felt vast portions of the book were repetitive and going no where, slowly. I could have enjoyed more of this world, these characters, if it had been additional material rather than the feeling that I was going in circles.

By the time I was done with it, I was relieved. And finding out the answer to the whodunit was, meh.

But here’s additional support for why I won’t formally review this book or others. Sometimes it is only after time and distance that the true impact of a book is realized. I am now 5-6 months from finishing that slog but find the book is still with me. Something of it’s essence lingers. What is it and why? I’m not really sure. I think a large part of it is the believability of the characters. They were just fickle, inconsistent and imperfect enough to truly breathe.

One intellectual question persists – I wonder if I were capable of reading the work in the original language, would the word crafting have extraordinary merit? Is it more beautifully written in the original? Did I miss some important aspect of the work by reading a translation?

This question buzzed around my head while I read the book and resurfaced when I read the article in the last Historical Novel Review, “Translating a Genre” by Lucinda Byatt. Ms Byatt makes a great argument for more historical fiction to be translated into English (Hear! Hear!). She also notes the difficulty for publishers to be sure of their translator’s skills. I couldn’t possibly critique Erdag M. Guknar’s translation of My Name is Red, but I can’t help wondering if I’ve missed out on something in the writing?

This book is also steeped in historical references that are probably familiar to eastern readers but are well outside of my exposure. It was fun though, just today, while readingThe History of al-Tabari for my own research, to come across the historical account of Shirin and Husrev, who’s love story figures so prominently in My Name is Red. I felt like I’d run into an old acquaintance.

I get the feeling that My Name is Red opened my mind to things I have yet to realize. The more reason not to rattle off hasty book reviews using the grade-inflation-tainted star system.

Recommended.

I’d love to hear from others who have read My Name is Red and your reaction to it. Is it just me? How do you feel about official/starred book reviews?

http://longagoandfaraway.org/2013/10/08/my-name-is-red/

 

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Recent Reading: Sharon Kay Penman

When Christ and His Saints Slept is on the Kindle

When Christ and His Saints Slept is on the Kindle

Since I am writing historical fiction, it follows that I would read as much as possible in the genre. I am really trying to catch up.

In order to be well-read in historical fiction, one must read Sharon Kay Penman. So, I think I spent most of 2013 making my way through her Plantagenet Series – When Christ and His Saints Slept, Time and Chance, and Devil’s Brood. These books are massive but took me even longer because I found myself avoiding them – especially Devil’s Brood. Don’t misunderstand me – Ms. Penman is brilliant. Her writing is dense with historical detail and her character’s are as real as you and I. But I found myself wanting to slap nearly every one of them. Page after page of family squabbles result in the burning and pillaging of the French and English countryside for decades, generations. I found myself aimlessly surfing the web or scrolling through Facebook again just to avoid these people. What’s more amazing is that I liked most of the characters – even as I wanted to spank them.

Penman’s Lionheart – the story of Richard – sits on my dresser, but he will have to wait. I need a breather from these spoiled brats.

It reminds me of trying to read Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror while living in Indonesia. I got through about half of it and couldn’t take it anymore. In this narrative history of 14th century Europe, Tuchman repeatedly points out that the rulers wreaking havoc on ordinary folks’ lives were really just teenagers run amuk. I felt like I was watching the same nonsense in Indonesia at the time and so put the book down. Why torment myself?

I suppose that’s somewhat the point in both works: people don’t change. Given the opportunity, a world run by teenagers will pretty much look like medieval Europe.

Thank God for democracy. Let’s keep it that way.

New Year’s Revolutions – 2014

Yes. Revolutions. Time to bust through the status quo and it’s inertia. Time to start something, change something.

I’ll begin with this blog that has been sitting for 6 months with nary a post.

2013 – my writing goal was to finish my novel’s rough draft. Didn’t happen. Got bogged down in life. But the first third of the book is a solid draft, so the 2014 goal is to get the rest of the book to a similar state. It will be a challenge.

For the first half of 2013, I still had a normal day job as a staff, in-office, catastrophe adjuster for a major insurance company. I worked long hours with lots of overtime but at least I knew my general schedule. I was able to get up at 5am and know I could get a good 90 minutes of writing time.

In mid-June I quit that staff job to go independent. I had a gig lined up. It fell apart. I enjoyed the summer catching up on everything else and making strides on my novel. Then, in September, a prior manifestation of my life came rushing back at me. I was suddenly a decorative painter again. The novel was set aside so I could be 150% self-employed.

You can read about all of that on my other blogs: Lausanne’s Golden Road and Marsh Hawk Studio.

To be painting again is a wonder, but the novel has been on the shelf – so to speak (hah, couldn’t resist).

In just a few more days, I will complete the large painting project that started it all. And return to the novel. Knowing that, with Spring approaching, I could be called up for adjusting duty and be working 12 hours/7 days week for a while. Or, another mural client could come calling.

There’s much to be said for an ordered life. Mine will never be. So I must figure out how to write without a set schedule.