The Museum of Innocence
Knopf, Oct 20 2009, $28.95
In 1975 in Istanbul, affluent thirty year old Kemal stops at a shop to buy a purse for his fiancée Sibel; also of a wealthy family. He is instantly attracted to the shop girl eighteen year old Fusun, who he knows is forbidden fruits as his family will object to her for being from the poor side of town and besides his match is made; they are also related though quite distantly.
Kemal does not break off his engagement, but maintains everything as memorabilia (in his mind) that involves his non-relationship with Fusun, as he keeps everything and looks at each item as the most precious whether it be earrings, etc in his personal museum. He feels no contentment in spite of his wife’s caring tenderness at a time when discontent rules the country. Only with his “priceless” artifact collection reminding him of what he never had enables him to fantasize about his Fusun does he feel some contentment.
This is a deep look at unrequited love using the backdrop of turmoil late 1970s Turkey to enhance the impact of the intense story line. Profound, Kemal makes the tale as he knows he obsesses over Fusun as depicted by his prizes he maintains in The Museum of Innocence. Sibel and Fusun, though differing personalities, are fully developed people who add to Kemal’s confusion by being themselves. Although the plot feels overwhelming at times with so much going on in Istanbul, readers will appreciate Orhan Pamuk’s powerful tale of a man fixated on a “Goddess” he can never obtain as truly his outside his imagination.