In my determination to read translated authors, because then you get a feel for other countries and other cultures, I have come to The Museum of Innocence by Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk. I was published in 2008, and set in the seventies in Istanbul, Turkey. It won a Nobel Prize in Literature. I gotta admit, I am not sure why. Oops. Wait. No. The author won his prize for other work, not for this novel. Now I feel better. I thought I was losing my ever lovin’.
I found it tedious and boring. Maybe I am too old for this type of storyline. Which is as the official plot descriptions tells us:
It is 1975, a perfect spring in Istanbul. Kemal, scion of one of the city’s wealthiest families, is about to become engaged to Sibel, daughter of another prominent family, when he encounters Füsun, a beautiful shopgirl and a distant relation. Once the long-lost cousins violate the code of virginity, a rift begins to open between Kemal and the world of the Westernized Istanbul bourgeoisie—a world, as he lovingly describes it, with opulent parties and clubs, society gossip, restaurant rituals, picnics, and mansions on the Bosphorus, infused with the melancholy of decay—until finally he breaks off his engagement to Sibel. But his resolve comes too late.
For eight years Kemal will find excuses to visit another Istanbul, that of the impoverished backstreets where Füsun, her heart now hardened, lives with her parents, and where Kemal discovers the consolations of middle-class life at a dinner table in front of the television. His obsessive love will also take him to the demimonde of Istanbul film circles (where he promises to make Füsun a star), a scene of seedy bars, run-down cheap hotels, and small men with big dreams doomed to bitter failure. In his feckless pursuit, Kemal becomes a compulsive collector of objects that chronicle his lovelorn progress and his afflicted heart’s reactions: anger and impatience, remorse and humiliation, deluded hopes of recovery, and daydreams that transform Istanbul into a cityscape of signs and specters of his beloved, from whom now he can extract only meaningful glances and stolen kisses in cars, movie houses, and shadowy corners of parks. A last change to realize his dream will come to an awful end before Kemal discovers that all he finally can possess, certainly and eternally, is the museum he has created of his collection, this map of a society’s manners and mores, and of one man’s broken heart.
A stirring exploration of the nature of romantic attachment and of the mysterious allure of collecting, The Museum of Innocencealso plumbs the depths of an Istanbul half Western and half traditional—its emergent modernity, its vast cultural history.
It is exceedingly long, going into laborious detail of various scenes and his thought processes. I didn’t find the exploration of romantic attachment and of the mysterious allure all that stirring. After reading the storyline, you can understand my ennui in the face of yet another self-absorbed, obsessed young man who basically has too much so has to find distraction in something less than worthy.
The details of life in Turkey at that time I found really interesting. The author’s descriptions of the city life, the neighborhoods, etc. were so well-served by his eye for minutiae. The endless ruminating and obsessing thrilled me so much less. I have little patience for obsession. Probably because at my age I can clearly see the pointless waste of one’s life and energies on it.
The author has also written Snow and My Name Is Red. Perhaps I will give those a shot.