My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk (1998 in Turkish, English translation 2001).
Pamuk winner of the Nobel Prize shortly after this book was published has written a fascinating book on several levels. First, it is a good murder mystery novel. Each chapter is written in first person, with the name of the person talking being the chapter head. The first chapter is the corpse that is the center of the story, reminding me of Sunset Boulevard. Secondly it is a love story. Thirdly, Istanbul itself is one of the characters. Fourthly it is an insight into the various classes in Istanbul at that time. And fifthly, it is about miniaturist paintings in the Ottoman Empire in the 1500s. You learn a lot about pictorial art and Islam, and why the miniaturists were allowed, but the “Frankish” art in which you could actually recognize the person and in which perspective was introduced so that a dog might be bigger than a tree was considered unholy. This discussion illuminates the philosophical differences between Islam and the West today. Highly recommended.
The Oracle of Stambul by Michael Lukas (2011).
The number of books that feature a girl protagonist who is not nicely balanced with a boy is rare. And such a girl – young, plucky, genius – was a particular pleasure. Once again Istanbul itself is one of the major characters, and since I read this book and My Name Is Red while in Istanbul or shortly thereafter, the pleasure was doubled. This time, however, we are at the end of the 19th century, and we glimpse again life within the Topaki palace. From what Lukas says in his introduction and who he cites as inspiration, I surmise that he meant this book to be deeper than I found it. Also, the writing itself is only O.K. Mostly it does not get in the way of the story, with only a few slips. But the story is charming and if I should into another book of his, I would not be afraid to give it a go.
Globalization: A Very Short Introduction by Manfred B. Steger (2009).
This was a “work” book that I am glad to have read. It is a useful overview of the subject looking at five, intertwining domains – economic, political, cultural, environmental and ideological. I may use it as one of my textbooks for Introduction to International Studies. In addition to an overview of a subject Steger’s word choice and presentation would make it a good introduction to reading critically and analyzing the information and the perspective from which it is being presented. If you are interested in the subject, I recommend this as a good starter book.
M: The Man Who Became Caravaggio by Peter Robb (1998).
Caravaggio (who incidentally worked at the same time that My Name is Red is about) is one of my favorite painters, and this book has been sitting on my shelf for years. Not much is known about Caravaggio’s life, although he is known for being a “bad boy” who challenged social and sexual mores of his time and who died mysteriously. Robb manages to take the approximate 50 pages of actual information one can gather about him from police records, letters and histories and manages through repetition and convoluted story telling to turn it into a 500 page book. It could easily have been cut to 300 pages without losing any details or his vivid descriptions of the paintings themselves. But if you are interested in this late 16th-early 17th century painter who wowed the art world of his time, it is worth plodding through the prose for a good story and a better understanding of his art.
O’Halloran’s Luck and Other Stories by Stephen Vincent Benet. (I couldn’t find a publication date on this old book, but copyrights for the individual stories were from 1926-1939, with most of them coming between 1936 and 1939)
Apparently Benet was quite popular during his time, including winning a Pulitzer Prize for a long poem that he wrote. I found this to be an interesting collection. I would call the writing style “dated,” but not the themes, and I have a soft spot of “old styles” of writing (I am presently reading Dr. Thorne by Anthony Trollope.) The stories in this collection included folksy, charming stories and other pondered the modern human condition. A couple were written in response to the totalitarians he saw in Germany and elsewhere at the time. None of the stories were bad, but then again, none of them left me saying “golly gee, wow.” My favorites were:
- The title story in which a leprechaun has followed the Irish immigrants to America.
- Doc Mellhorn and the Pearly Gates because of its conceptions of heaven and hell and that an atheist (more or less) gets to discover them. It has one of the best opening lines.
- The Blood of the Martyrs, which tells of the last day of a scientist who doesn’t care a fig about politics but is living under totalitarian rule.
- Everybody Was Very Nice for its twist at the end. A man is telling an old school buddy he hasn’t seen in years about his first marriage, divorce and remarriage.
All the photos on this page were taken from the Internet.