Here “Red” is a color, one of twenty amazing chapter narrators — Dog, Death, Uncle, even A Gold Coin — who recount nine snowy days, Istanbul, 1591. Structured as historic murder mystery the novel begins with a dead speaker, member of a renowned school of miniaturists. Throughout the pages their artistic feuds mirror far larger culture shock: that earlier Ottoman defeat by Venice at Lepanto. East meets West, its power and influence.
Complicated, interwoven plots of love, duplicity and despair reflect growing social uncertainties. Pamuk presents a brilliant, physically dense Istanbul overview: all class levels talk to us, directly. They explain, lie, finally admit, “I am confused.” In a rigid society based on authoritative texts — almost too many quoted for this reader — threat of change menaces. So when the opening murder is solved it’s almost irrelevant. For the fascination of this masterly account lies in the universal tale: an entire culture challenged, and shuddering on its own axis.