Take a visual tour of the Museum of Innocence by reading this book. Set up by Kamal Basmaci and located in Istanbul, the museum displays his entire collection of everyday items (door knobs, porcelain dogs, salt-shakers), posters and photographs of thirty years, belonging or pertaining to the woman he loved. There is even a free ticket for visit after you read the book. (Cute!)
And so the journey begins in 1975 when 30-year-old Kamal first spotted eighteen-year-old Fusun in a shop he went in, to buy a handbag for his fiancée. That bag – exhibit number one, is the start of the whole collection.
Fusun is a distant poor cousin and they once played together as children. Kamal seduced her, stole her virginity and started an affair with her using his mother’s spare apartment for their daily afternoon rendezvous. Like most cad, he continued his affair with Fusun despite his engagement to Sibel, a more suitable marital match for his position in Turkish high society.
Dejected, Fusun disappeared after his engagement party and that’s when he realised his obsession with Fusun, although he tried to deny this. He went back to the apartment to hold and caress the things Fusun had touched – the cigarette butts which had been on her lips, her drinking cup, her barettes. With each passing days, his depression grew deeper without Fusun. Sibel, not knowing what’s wrong, moved in with him to a holiday home to help him recuperate but they finally broke up, her reputation ruined.
When Kamal finally located Fusun, she was married to a film maker. With the excuse that he would help produce the film and make Fusun a star, he spent his evenings at Fusun’s house, pilfering the little things from her home and replacing it either with cash or other things.
When Fusun finally got a divorced eight years later, he thought he was the happiest person on Earth, until she crashed his car on the way to Paris after their engagement and died.
On his subsequent travels and visits to museums around the world, he decided to set up this museum and tell his tale of love and obsession through this book.
It was surprisingly easy to read this 531-page book by the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Perhaps credit should go to the translator Maureen Freely. I enjoy revisiting Istanbul through this book, where I had vacationed in 2007 – recalling my walk along Galata Bridge and seeing Golden Horn, crusing along the Bosphorus, sampling Turkish Delights and drinking raki. Through this book, I also took a nostalgic trip back in time, where I learned more about Turkey during that turbulent period where Turkey tried to remain secular while maintaining its balance straddling two cultures and continents – Asian and European. Post Atatuk Turkey was one of curfews, road blocks and censorship.
I am amused at how the author, Orhan Pamuk, wrote himself into the story, something we witness often in movies of an actor playing himself but this is the first I’ve come across in a book, blurring the line between fiction and biography. (Orhan Pamuk was a guest at the engagement party of Kamal and Sibel at the Hilton, and later as a writer to write Kamal’s story.)
The detailed observation of emotions and humanity makes this book a worthwhile read, although you may dislike, even as you sympathize with the self-made sorrow of Kamal.
I list here some examples:
On old people: ‘Age had not made him less handsome, as is so often the case; it had simply made him less visible.
On happiest moments : ‘In fact no one recognizes the happiest moment of their lives as they are living it. It may well be that, in a moment of joy, one might sincerely believe that they are living that golden instant “now,” even having lived such a moment before, but whatever they say, in one part of their hearts they still believe in that certainty of a happier moment to come.
If anything, what I took away from this book at the end was how to enjoy and appreciate museums.
“Museums are (1) not to be strolled around in but to be experienced, (2) made up of collections expressive of the soul of the ‘experience’, (3) not in fact museums but merely galleries when emptied of their collections.”