(This post, like many others, was started long ago.)
I haven’t read much “modern” literature. Heck, I haven’t read much classical literature, but it feels like I’m more familiar with classical authors and titles, at least superficially.
A few good friends of mine recently started an email list mostly talking about books we’ve read, and my complete ignorance of modern writers was put to shame by an elite friend (he eats Roman history for breakfast) who hates elitism. So I wanted to make up a bit, and when I heard about this year’s Nobel price, I got this book from the library immediately. (I had only read half of it when I had to return it. Bought one but only finished it in late 2007.)
I definitely don’t know how to analyze a novel and critique its style and organization. But before I go on read some serious review and analysis, let me first record my instinctive and naive feelings.
The narrative structure is pretty interesting–I don’t know if it’s the first novel that only uses the first-person accounts from many people and things (dog, tree, counterfeit coin, the color red, etc.) to tell the story. It’s pretty interesting at the beginning, starting with a corpse talking to the readers from the bottom of a well, but it gets tiresome after a while due to jumping perspectives.
And what bothers me the most is that everyone (and thing) speaks almost the same tone, especially the miniaturists. Granted, the author doesn’t want the reader to find out who’s the murderer simply by the way he talks, but it’s a self-inflicted deficiency. Could it be something lost in translation?
The superficial story line is about two murders and a love story, but I feel those are just means to sell the book. The story is really about the inevitable loss of history and culture at the advance of a new dominance. Turkey has been (and still is) going through that painful phase for a few hundred years, and alas China a hundred times more traumatic.
That’s why the longest chapters are those of Master Osman (supposedly based on the real Nakkaş Osman) and Black spent in the royal treasury, perusing through endless hidden volumes of books with miniature masterpiece over the centuries. Master Osman use the excuse of finding the murderer to spend his last days of light with the greatest arts in history, just like the book uses the excuse of finding the murderer to take readers into the world of lost Islamic arts and idiosyncrasy.
I wish I had seen this page while reading the book. Although it only shows 6 miniatures, they really make the story alive, especially the picture of Hüsrev and Shirin (meaning “sweet”, and the heroine’s name Shekure is cognate with “sugar”), which is brought up so many times at nausea in the book.
P.S. One of the best sections is the horse drawing contest. Can you tell which miniaturist is the murderer from what they say after each draws a horse?
Olive says: When I draw a magnificent horse, I become that magnificent horse.
Butterfly says: When I draw a magnificent horse, I become a great master of old drawing that horse.
Stork says: When I draw a magnificent horse, I am who I am, nothing more.