A Book Review: The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk

“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 the certainty of a happier moment to come. Because how could anyone, and particularly anyone who is still young, carry on with the belief that everything could only get worse: If a person is happy enough to think he has reached the happiest moment of his life, he will be hopeful enough to believe his future will be just as beautiful, more so.” 
― Orhan PamukThe Museum of Innocence

Orhan Pamuk in the Museum of Innocence

A Book Review: The Museum of Innocence By Orhan Pamuk

The Museum of Innocence – in my opinion – is not Orhan Pamuk’s best work, but it is still an amazing novel.
I have just finished reading it and I am – again – blown away by Pamuk’s genius and his ability to grasp and to hold my attention for the whole length of 530 pages of the novel. Plus, I feel a bit melancholic, leaving his extraordinary but fictional world, made of the same ingredients: a man`s quest to find love, his life’s gradual but drastic change, and this endless pursuit of happiness…while erring in the streets of Istanbul.

The novel started as a love story doomed to fail. But as the time passes (the novel covers more than 32 years) and the obsessive nature of Kemal’s mind is revealed, I began to wonder if this love would have ever sustained if these two people had actually gotten married. Since, besides all these objects, gathered and cherishes by Kemal – objects which have been used or possessed by Fusun and her family – does he ever try to understand Fusun’s mind, her thoughts, her wants or her dreams. He appears mostly surprised at most of Fusun’s responses to him. He gives up his previous life, in the name of his love for a woman, while it is clear that he’s only in love with her beauty. Almost as if he is under a maledict spell, he doesn’t understand her sadness, or her sorrow. After having spent 8 years at her dinner table, I’m not sure if he still could interpret her gestures, her few words, or her silences in the right way? Besides watching TV together, while she remained in her own bitterness and he lingered at the depth of his own impossible obsession, what else did they share?
The more I read, the more I felt that their love story could have had a different path if Kemal wasn’t so much in love with the image of a woman he had made in his mind. He wasn’t really in love with Fusun, but in love with his own fascination, or in other sense, in love with this obsession.
But before I could develop a stronger resentment toward Kemal for his ignorance and selfishness, Pamuk wrote:”Sometimes it occurred to me that ours (our love) was a companionship of knowing shared defeat: This made me even happier than love did.”
And there, I realized that all along the way, this was the story Pamuk intended to tell. In other words, Fusun’s love represents this obsession with the past, this timeless nostalgia, while the character of Sibel represents the modernity. No wonder Fusun’s realm ends up in a museum, or as Pamuk writes: “…if objects that bring us shame are displayed in a museum, they are immediately transformed into possessions in which to take pride.”

The Museum of Innocence is a complex novel, beautifully written, full of intriguing and thought provoking twists and turns, and I would definitely recommend it to every book lover.


About lifeacrossthesun

Writer/ 2011 PEN USA Emerging Voices fellow
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