Book: The Museum of Innocence
Author: Orhan Pamuk
Year: 2009
Bookhad Rating: ❤❤

Sometimes we’d do nothing but sit there in silence

You read that, right? Now imagine 7 pages of tiny print, each beginning with the word ‘sometimes’. It gets to you. 

The Museum of Innocence is a drama surrounding the life of Kemal Bey and his love (read obsession) with his poor distant relation Fusen. Kemal is engaged to Sibel and is preparing for his marriage when he comes across this poor cousin working in a store selling fake merchandise. Thus, begins the journey of Kemal and his ups and downs with life regarding his personal equation with his soon-to-be wife Sibel and his obsession cloaked under the guise of delicate and beautiful Fusen.

What he does next defines the premise of the story for the next 500 pages of this mammoth read. He sleeps with Fusen. A lot of steamy sex graphically explained and enunciated with the tone of a philosopher follows. Kemal, in this narrative, tries very hard to justify, not blatantly and openly, but by nudging us over with his pronouncements and gratification of Love and Companionship to make the reader see why he cheats behind his fiancee’s back.

It would’ve worked for me, personally speaking, if the sex wasn’t made the focal point of all that Fusen and Kemal bonded over. Kemal is a rich guy and he has access to empty houses to grind along with Fusen and make philosophical conjectures in the same breath. 

Frankly, the story is all about this. His obsession with Fusen and how he collects ‘memories’ to enable him to keep track of the time spent. This was one of the points that I liked about the book. “The Museum” is Kemal’s story in tangible keepsakes. He ‘borrows’ small everyday items and stores it in his house. Small everyday things like ashtrays and napkins and cloth. Kemal collects everything he can. It might be something that Fusen merely spoke about, or touched once, or, perhaps, looked towards it. Kemal takes it and hides it among the hundreds of items he has surrounded himself with. Every item, Kemal says, is a memory. He takes it to set in steel, so to say, the time spent with Fusen.

The Museum is the non-living memory that kills him slowly as everything falls apart when Fusen leaves and he breaks off the engagement with Sibel. It is this museum that Kemal hides in to stay away from the world that he had so neglected because of Fusen. With Fusen gone, Kemal has nothing to do. His business is down, his reputation becomes the talk of the town and he merely drags out his life one day at a time.

What I like about this book is how Turkey has been described. The sheer colour and the feel of the people and place made it worth the time I spent reading this. The story had nothing for me. It was about a man who ‘loves’ his fiancée but loves someone else more. It was the classic ‘cheating-behind-my-back’ story, but the execution was dragged out. In my opinion, the book would’ve been half its size if Pamuk did not rhapsodise endlessly of how every nook and cranny of Fusen set his heart aflutter.

The noteworthy aspect of this book is the rendition of Turkey and its people. The Turks, the rich influential Turks at least, are shown in a light of confusion. They’re stuttering to find out where they stand. They are trying to prove their “Western Ideals” and at the same time are grappling at the cultural history and society that they grew up in. So, the book brings to life a vision in stark contradiction with its other half. They think it is perfectly alright to sleep with a girl before marriage but only if you’re going to marry them. They keep themselves updated with the latest western movie and fashion, but still frown upon a girl who participated in a fashion show.

For me, the book was like an open window that took me to the part of the world that I haven’t seen and experienced. It made me see the river flowing amidst the city and sit along the coastal cafes and drink in the lives of the locals. Orhan Pamuk’s book is more like a lesson on Turkey and its socio-economic population and not Kemal’s story. These things made the book a read that was acceptable. Long and withdrawn and dragging but nonetheless there was something that I took away from the  book.

Orhan Pamuk is a man lettered and liveried with generous dollops of insignia. He is a very read author and with a Nobel under his kitty people pick his book without thinking twice. The Museum of Innocence was a very lengthy book. It was tedious and took too many words to say what it wanted to.

It will be some time before I pick another Pamuk. But pick up, I will.

Bookhad
(09.12.2014)

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