As familiar as the subject of love might seem, The Museum of Innocence is a startling original. Every turn in the story seems fresh, disquieting, utterly unexpected…The genius of Pamuk's novel is that although it can be read as a simple romance, it is a richly complicated work with subtle and intricate layers. Kemal's descent into love's hell takes him through every level of the social order, past countless neighborhoods of sprawling Istanbul, in a story that spans 30 years…In sum, The Museum of Innocence is a deeply human and humane story. Masterfully translated, spellbindingly told, it is resounding confirmation that Orhan Pamuk is one of the great novelists of his generation. With this book, he literally puts love into our hands.
The Washington Post
…enchanting…Part of the delight in The Museum of Innocence is in scouting out the serious games, yet giving oneself over to the charms of Pamuk's storytelling. He often makes use of genre, turns the expected response to his purpose…Maureen Freely's translation captures the novelist's playful performance as well as his serious collusion with Kemal. Her melding of tones follows Pamuk's agility, to redirect our vision to the gravity of his tale
The New York Times
Nobel laureate Pamuk's latest is a soaring, detailed and laborious mausoleum of love. During Istanbul's tumultuous 1970s, Kemal Bey, 30-year-old son of an upper-class family, walks readers through a lengthy catalogue of trivial objects, which, though seeming mundane, hold memories of his life's most intimate, irretrievable moments. The main focus of Kemal's peculiar collection of earrings, ticket stubs and drinking glasses is beloved Füsun, his onetime paramour and longtime unrequited love. An 18-year-old virginal beauty, modest shopgirl and “poor distant relation,” Füsun enters Kemal's successful life just as he is engaged to Sibel, a “very special, very charming, very lovely girl.” Though levelheaded Sibel provides Kemal compassionate relief from their social strata's rising tensions, it is the fleeting moments with fiery, childlike Füsun that grant conflicted Kemal his “deepest peace.” The poignant truth behind Kemal's obsession is that his “museum” provides a closeness with Füsun he'll never regain. Though its incantatory middle suffers from too many indistinguishable quotidian encounters, this is a masterful work. (Oct.)
And they say women fall crazy in love. In this latest from Nobel Prize winner Pamuk, protagonist Kemal becomes so obsessed with a shop girl he meets while buying his fiancée a purse that he ends up throwing away his entire life. Füsan is in fact a distant relative Kemal hasn't seen for some time, and they launch a passionate affair on the very eve of Kemal's engagement party. This is 1970s Turkey, and new ideas from the West would seem to bless the affair. But of course Kemal never considers breaking his engagement, and in the end a deeply bruised Füsan vanishes. As Kemal's fiancée, Sibel, rightly observes, "It's because she was a poor, ambitious girl that you were able to start something so easily." Kemal is not so enlightened as he thinks. He's also a bit of a bore, having compulsively organized an entire "museum" of artifacts pertaining to Füsan that the author repeatedly references; readers may agree with Kemal that "visitors to my museum must by now be sick and tired of my heartache." VERDICT This story is beautifully told, but at great length and in great detail; patient readers, be prepared. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/09.]—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
Curious and demanding new novel from Turkey's 2006 Nobel laureate, both closely akin to and somewhat less accomplished than its universally acclaimed predecessors (Snow, 2004, etc.). This is protagonist Kemal's impassioned tale of his obsessive love for a beautiful distant relative, Fusun, with whom he enjoys a rapturous sexual relationship as the day of Kemal's marriage to his blameless fiancee Sibel draws nearer. When we meet him in 1975, Kemal is the 30-year-old scion of a prosperous Istanbul family. The Basmacis are privileged people who acquire objects of beauty and value, store them away, then forget them. Not so with Kemal, whose yearning for the elusive Fusun (she's responsive only sexually) outlasts the breaking of his engagement and the years of Fusun's marriage to Feridun. During that period, Kemal is a frequent visitor to their home, from which he steals something each time, adding objects to his "collection" of artifacts commemorating ecstasies shared with his former lover (hence the compelling title metaphor). The author examines Kemal's twisted devotion with impressive cunning and inventiveness; inevitably, we think of Nabokov's Humbert Humbert and his Lolita, but to Pamuk's credit, the comparison does not diminish this novel's eloquence or impact. Suggestions of a tradition-bound haute bourgeoisie unable to let go of passing traditions and values feel honestly earned, and the narrative consistently engages and surprises. It's also too long and sometimes seems more a willed production than a cry from the heart. A rather contrived climax is redeemed by a witty denouement in which a new narrator makes an unexpected appearance. Another richly woven tale suffused with life andcolor from one of contemporary fiction's true master craftsmen. First printing of 75,000
From the Publisher
A New York Times Notable Book
One of the Best Books of the Year
Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, Kansas City Star
“Spellbinding. . . . A resounding confirmation that Orhan Pamuk is one of the great novelists of his generation. With this book, he literally puts love in our hands.”
—The Washington Post
“Mesmerizing, brilliantly realized. . . . Deeply and compellingly explores the interplay between erotic obsession and sentimentality . . . . There is a master at work in this book. . . . Istanbul—its sounds, its smells, its history—permeates everything.”
—Los Angeles Times
“Intimate and nuanced…. A classic, spacious love story.”
—Pico Iyer, The New York Review of Books
“Stunningly original. . . . Engrossing and sensual. . . . Granular and panoramic, satirical and yet grounded in reality. . . . Great writers have made the failed love stories of desperate, self-involved men pulsate. A master, like Pamuk, makes the story feel vital.”
—The Associated Press
“Pamuk has created a work concerning romantic love worthy to stand in the company of Lolita, Madame Bovary, and Anna Karenina. . . . [Pamuk] is as accomplished an anatomist of love as Stendhal or Hazlitt in Liber Amoris. . . . Kemal’s narrative crosses decades, assembling a fascinating social world of families, friends and dependents, a rich palimpsest of the lives and mores of Istanbul’s haute bourgeoisie.”
“Enchanting. . . . Maureen Freely’s translation captures the novelist’s playful performance as well as his serious collusion with Kemal. Her melding of tones follows Pamuk’s agility, to redirect our vision to the gravity of his tale.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“This is the greatest novel of the new century. . . . In its sensuousness of the life observed, its Olympian insight into the clashes of classes and professions, and its fearlessness in tackling the great themes of human existence without dilution by showiness, tricks, or superficiality, it evokes the great novels of love and obsession by Balzac, Stendhal, Flaubert, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Mann.”
—The New Leader
“Enchanting. . . . A tour de force. . . . Museum digs deep into memory, and the inescapability of the past. And just as Dostoyevsky did in critiquing a Russia that looked outward to Europe rather than inward to find its soul, Pamuk portrays an upper class that takes its cues from the West, while threatening to dislodge itself from its native culture. . . . Pamuk’s triumph is that you wish Kemal would stay a while longer.”
—The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Pamuk’s sensual, sinister tale is a brilliant panorama of Turkey’s conflicted national identity—and a lacerating critique of a social elite that styles itself after the West but fails to embrace its core freedoms.”
“[The Museum of Innocence] grabs and compels us, in prose that is deliberate, thoroughgoing, meticulous. . . . What clarifies breathtakingly by book’s end—perhaps its secret heart—is the inverse story that is Füsun’s: the quiet indictment of a culture locked into ancient mores that suffocated women to death.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“[Pamuk’s] most accessible novel and his most profound. . . . Following the spirit of Marcel Proust or another Turkish writer, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar, the novelist’s art is to accumulate detail in ‘a “sentimental museum” in which each object shimmers with meaning.’”
“A world-class lesson in heartbreak and happiness. . . . Pamuk’s own presence in this wily narrative is as surreptitious as passion itself.”
—O, The Oprah Magazine
“An alluring story—big in every way in Pamuk’s hands.”
—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“A charmingly old-fashioned love story whose principal interest lies in the author’s warm-hearted evocation of his milieu: Istanbul is Pamuk’s city like Dublin was Joyce’s or Chicago Bellow’s.”
—The Denver Post
“Mesmerizing. . . . Awe-inspiring. . . . A haunting and evocative depiction of the passion and frailty of youth and beauty and of the enduring character of memory. . . . Istanbul maps the geography of Pamuk’s soul. Reading The Museum of Innocence, most readers will find themselves falling deeply in love with that magical city.”
—The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk)
“A virtuoso comment on East and West.”
—The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
“A belletristic banquet. . . . Pamuk describes Kemal’s decline with operatic drama and painterly flair. . . . His writing [is] lush, grand and masterful.”
—The Courier-Journal (Louisville)
“[Pamuk] once again distinguishes himself by creating this romance that in its magnitude and ingenuity reaches the level of literature’s greatest romances. . . . Beyond the brilliant story line and the exquisite writing and imagery lies the soul of a man laid bare, a man who we should find at best intolerable (and at worst possibly despicable) but who yet finds such joy in this single-minded love that we cannot help but admire him. . . . It is in this duality that we glimpse Pamuk’s genius.”
—Chattanooga Times Free Press
“An enthralling, immensely enjoyable piece of storytelling. . . . The large-scale social portraiture of The Museum of Innocence is beautifully assured; lightly satirical but also affectionate; a very tender evocation of Istanbul’s moment of dolce vita.”
—The Guardian (London)
“Exquisite. . . . An expansive, delicate and deceptively straightforward romance. . . . Against the backdrop of a shifting, evolving city, attracted to, yet sceptical of, the West, Pamuk gracefully, at times teasingly, pursues his themes of memory, custom and sacrifice.”
—Daily Mail (London)
Read an Excerpt
The Happiest Moment of My Life
It was the happiest moment of my life, though I didn’t know it. Had I known, had I cherished this gift, would everything have turned out differently? Yes, if I had recognized this instant of perfect happiness, I would have held it fast and never let it slip away. It took a few seconds, perhaps, for that luminous state to enfold me, suffusing me with the deepest peace, but it seemed to last hours, even years. In that moment, on the afternoon of Monday, May 26, 1975, at about a quarter to three, just as we felt ourselves to be beyond sin and guilt so too did the world seem to have been released from gravity and time. Kissing Fusun’s
shoulder, already moist from the heat of our lovemaking, I gently entered her from behind, and as I softly bit her ear, her earring must have come free and, for all we knew, hovered in midair before falling of its own accord. Our bliss was so profound that we went on kissing, heedless of the fall of the earring, whose shape I had not even noticed.
Outside the sky was shimmering as it does only in Istanbul in the spring. In the streets people still in their winter clothes were perspiring, but inside shops and buildings, and under the linden and chestnut trees, it was still cool. We felt the same coolness rising from the musty mattress on which we were making love, the way children play, happily forgetting everything else. A breeze wafted in through the balcony window, tinged with the sea and linden leaves; it lifted the tulle curtains, and they billowed down again in slow motion, chilling our naked bodies. From the bed of the back bedroom of the second- floor apartment, we could see a group of boys playing football in the garden below, swearing furiously in the May heat, and as it dawned on us that we were enacting, word for word, exactly those indecencies, we stopped making love to look into each other’s eyes and smile. But so great was our elation that the joke life had sent us from the back garden was forgotten as quickly as the earring.
When we met the next day, Füsun told me she had lost one of her earrings. Actually, not long after she had left the preceding afternoon, I’d spotted it nestled in the blue sheets, her initial dangling at its tip, and I was about to put it aside when, by a strange compulsion, I slipped it into my pocket. So now I said, “I have it here, darling,” as I reached into the right-hand pocket of my jacket hanging on the back of a chair. “Oh, it’s gone!” For a moment, I glimpsed a bad omen, a hint of malign fate, but then I remembered that I’d put on a different jacket that morning, because of the warm weather. “It must be in the pocket of my other jacket.”
“Please bring it tomorrow. Don’t forget,” Fusun said, her eyes widening. “It is very dear to me.”
Fusun was eighteen, a poor distant relation, and before running into her a month ago, I had all but forgotten she existed. I was thirty and about to become engaged to Sibel, who, according to everyone, was the perfect match.
The Şanzelize Boutique
The series of events and coincidences that were to change my entire life had begun a month before on April 27, 1975, when Sibel happened to spot a handbag designed by the famous Jenny Colon in a shop window as we were walking along Valikonağı Avenue, enjoying the cool spring evening. Our formal engagement was not far off; we were tipsy and in high spirits. We’d just been to Fuaye, a posh new restaurant in Nişantaşı; over supper with my parents, we had discussed at length the preparations for the engagement party, which was scheduled for the middle of June so that Nurcihan, Sibel’s friend since her days at Notre Dame de Sion Lycée and then her years in Paris, could come from France to attend. Sibel had long ago arranged for her engagement dress
to be made by Silky İsmet, then the most expensive and sought-after dressmaker in Istanbul, and that evening Sibel and my mother discussed how they might sew on the pearls my mother had given her for the dress. It was my future father- in- law’s express wish that his only daughter’s engagement party be as extravagant as a wedding, and my mother was only too delighted to help fulfill that wish as best as she could. As for my father, he was charmed enough by the prospect of a daughter-in-law who had “studied at the Sorbonne,” as was said in those days among the Istanbul bourgeoisie of any girl who had gone to Paris for any kind of study.
It was as I walked Sibel home that evening, my arm wrapped lovingly around her sturdy shoulders, noting to myself with pride how happy and lucky I was, that Sibel said, “Oh what a beautiful bag!” Though my mind was clouded by the wine, I took note of the handbag and the name of the shop, and at noon the next day I went back. In fact I had never been one of those suave, chivalrous playboys always looking for the least excuse to buy women presents or send them flowers, though perhaps I longed to be one. In those days, bored Westernized housewives of the affluent neighborhoods like Şişli, Nişantaşı, and Bebek did not open “art galleries” but boutiques, and stocked them with trinkets and whole ensembles smuggled in luggage from Paris and
Milan, or copies of “the latest” dresses featured in imported magazines like Elle and Vogue, selling these goods at ridiculously inflated prices to other rich housewives who were as bored as they were. As she would remind me when I tracked her down many years later, Şenay Hanım, then proprietress of the Şanzelize (its name a transliteration of the legendary Parisian avenue), was, like Fusun, a very distant relation on my mother’s side. The fact that she gave me the shop sign that had once hung on the door as well as any other object connected to Fusun without once questioning the reasons for my excessive interest in the sinceshuttered establishment led me to understand that some of the odder details of our story were known to her, and indeed had had a much wider circulation than I had assumed.
When I walked into the Şanzelize at around half past twelve the next day, the small bronze double-knobbed camel bell jingled two
notes that can still make my heart pound. It was a warm spring day, and inside the shop it was cool and dark. At first I thought there was no one there, my eyes still adjusting to the gloom after the noonday sunlight. Then I felt my heart in my throat, with the force of an immense wave about to crash against the shore.
“I’d like to buy the handbag on the mannequin in the window,” I managed to say, staggered at the sight of her.
“Do you mean the cream- colored Jenny Colon?”
When we came eye to eye, I immediately remembered her.
“The handbag on the mannequin in the window,” I repeated dreamily.
“Oh, right,” she said and walked over to the window. In a flash she had slipped off her yellow high- heeled pump, extending her bare foot, whose nails she’d carefully painted red, onto the floor of the display area, stretching her arm toward the mannequin. My eyes traveled from her empty shoe over her long bare legs. It wasn’t even May yet, and they were already tanned.
Their length made her lacy yellow skirt seem even shorter. Hooking the bag, she returned to the counter and with her long, dexterous fingers she removed the balls of crumpled cream-colored tissue paper, showing me the inside of the zippered pocket, the two smaller pockets (both empty) as well as the secret compartment, from which she produced a card inscribed jenny colon, her whole demeanor suggesting mystery and seriousness, as if she were showing me something very personal.
“Hello, Fusun. You’re all grown up! Perhaps you don’t recognize me.”
“Not at all, Cousin Kemal, I recognized you right away, but when I saw you did not recognize me, I thought it would be better not to disturb you.”
There was a silence. I looked again into one of the pockets she had just pointed to inside the bag. Her beauty, or her skirt, which was in fact too short, or something else altogether, had unsettled me, and I couldn’t act naturally.
“Well . . . what are you up to these days?”
“I’m studying for my university entrance exams. And I come here every day, too. Here in the shop, I’m meeting lots of new people.”
“That’s wonderful. So tell me, how much is this handbag?”
Furrowing her brow, she peered at the handwritten price tag on the bottom: “One thousand five hundred lira.” (At the time this would have been six months’ pay for a junior civil servant.) “But I am sure Şenay Hanım would want to offer you a special price. She’s gone home for lunch and must be napping now, so I can’t phone her. But if you could come by this evening . . .”
“It’s not important,” I said, and taking out my wallet—a clumsy gesture that, later, at our secret meeting place, Fusun would often mimic—I counted out the damp bills. Fusun wrapped the bag in paper, carefully but with evident inexperience, and then put it into a plastic bag. Throughout this silence she knew that I was admiring her honey-hued arms, and her quick, elegant gestures. When she politely handed me the shopping bag, I thanked her. “Please give my respects to Aunt Nesibe and your father,” I said (having failed to remember Tarık Bey’s name in time). For a moment I paused: My ghost had left my body and now, in some corner of heaven, was embracing Fusun and kissing her. I made quickly for the door. What an absurd daydream, especially since Fusun wasn’t as beautiful as all that. The bell on the door jingled, and I heard a canary warbling. I went out into the street, glad to feel the heat. I was pleased with my purchase; I loved Sibel very much. I decided to forget this shop, and Fusun.
From the Hardcover edition.