The Museum of Innocence – Orhan Pamuk

Translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely
First published 2008; first published in English 2009

A tale of obsession of a rich Istanbul businessman who is engaged to be married but falls in love with a teenage distant relation of his. He goes to ridiculous, comical lengths to try to get the girl of his desire.

He slumps into a profound uselessness; his business suffers, his relations with his family and friends are impaired, his whole life seems to have acquired a suffocating stillness, but he is focused on one thing: to make himself available to his beloved, to make himself seen and heard, to visit her house on a regular basis under a pretext of visiting poor relatives.

This routine continues for eight years during which the story is obsessively and nauseatingly improvised, through all the little details and happenings that seemed to change things for him, to give him a ray of hope, but nothing definite happens till very late, and when it does finally happen, when the girl accedes to his unrelenting pursuit, there occurs a tragic events which makes everything topsy-turvy.

The story depicts the lifestyle of upper class Istanbulites of the 1970s and 1980s, a period of immense social and political change in the life of modern Turkey.

In a sense, it’s a snapshot of Istanbul’s upper class who are negotiating their modern paradoxes of identity and destiny. The perennial question sits at the heart of their conundrum: are they European or not? Should they do and behave like European to modernise themselves? Or uphold their traditions and keep their customs and still be counted modern and enlightened?

I spent much longer reading the book than I’d have; I lost interest about mid way. It’s not as good as his previous novel. The start is typical Pamuk, which is to say it’s fast, intense, introduces conflict right from the start, and completely pulls you into the story. But then it stalls in the middle, completely loses its movement and interest factor with endless and overdone improvisation, till things begin to happen by the end of the book when it’s too little too late to salvage the novel for the stellar reputation his previous novels, (My Name is Red, Snow), enjoy.

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