Friday, 27 April 2012

The Museum of Innocence

Date of Reading: 21/04/2012
Author: Orhan Pamuk
Subtitle: A Novel
Translated from Turkish by: Maureen Freely
Publisher: faber and faber
Place: New York
Year: 2010
Rs. 399

Summary:
          Kemal is a wealthy heir with handsome prospects; he is educated from America and is now about to be engaged to the beautiful Sibel. All change when his path is crossed with Fusun, a charming 18-year old girl who is also his distant relative. Year is 1975.
          Kemal falls head over heals in love and a fruitful affair is started despite their 12-year age difference; she was a virgin. Turkey was on its modernisation (or Europeanisation) process, but virginity was still an issue in marriage.
          After his engagement with Sibel, Fusun's parents take her away leaving Kemal with a forlorn heart. He sooths the aching desire by cradling the things of Fusun and breathing her smell in Merhamet apartments where they had made love. Sibel comes to know of everything and tries her best to help him get over this obsession. In the end their engagement is broken off.
          Kemal goes to his beloved with the intention of proposing, but Fusun was already married to Feridun, a script writer; Kemal though crushed, continues to visit the place as a producer to Feridun's films. Eight years pass in this way during which he takes the things Fusun has touched (even cigarette butts, salt shaker, handkerchief etc.) and replaces them with expensive ones; Feridun has directed a successful movie though Fusun was not the heroine in spite of her strong wishes; Government has been overthrown by the military - but all this has become a blur for Kemal being himself an outcast among his own people.
          The much anticipated moment comes when Fusun gets a divorce due to Feridun's infidelity. Together with Kemal, she plans a European tour and gets engaged on the way. It turns out that she and Feridun had not had any marital relationship. But after the day of engagement, Fusun gets drunk and in her obstinacy takes the wheel from Kemal; the car gets crashed and she dies on the spot itself.
          Kemal's only solace now is his collection; he travels wide to visit museums (comes even to India) and finally sets up a museum in Fusun's house where he stays too. To give the visitor the same emotions as he feels, he approaches Orhan Pamuk to write a book about his life with Fusun connecting it with the things in the museum. It is written in Kemal's voice, but towards the end Pamuk himself steps in. Kemal's business was ruined but he dies as a happy man at the age of 65.

Rating: Bad

Comment:
          I am a great admirer of Pamuk, but this one though bought with great expectations, disappoints. Firstly, book is too long (728 pages) and there are no such page turning incidents as expected from a large work of fiction.

Pamuk in the Museum of Innocence

          Half of it is spent in describing Kemal's desire for Fusun and on getting repeated accounts, it turns out boring. Consequently, the image of Kemal generated is as a foolish rich kid who is trapped by a women's beauty and wastes his life (all the other characters think so too).
          We feel no sympathy for Fusun; she is obstinate and can never wash her hands off from Kemal's suffering. Why did she take eight years for the divorce? As he says,"It was not long before it occurred to me that if her dream came true and she became a star, she would take to abusing not just me but Feridun too, possibly even leaving us both".
          But this is Kemal's part of the story, and can be questioned. He also refers the tortures that Fusun undergoes as a child by males; but she is no damsel in distress. As in the driving licence incident, she does not bend when the suppression comes on account of being a woman.
         Feridun is to be pitied, as a victim trapped between these lovers - at least he does well in his world.
          The interesting part is the life in Turkey interwoven with the story - the aristocratic class striving hard to be modern, hotels in Bosphorus, military dictatorship of 1980s, the films and T.V. programmes - which unfortunately is not that stressed.
          Perhaps I must not be a judge of Kemal. He has lived his life for what he desired and as his name signified "completeness", he strives for it. It is to be noted that Ataturk, the founder and first President of Republic of Turkey is also named as Mustafa Kemal. I like the last lines and share it here:
"My last words in the book are these, Orhan Bay, please don't forget them..."
"I wont". . .
"Let everyone know, I lived a very happy life."


The building that will house the museum

--- Pamuk is working on establishing an actual Museum of Innocence, based on the museum described in the book. It is to be housed in Cukurcuma neighbourhood and will display a collection evocative of everyday life and culture of Istanbul during the period in which the novel is set.
           

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