“He tasks me. He tasks me and I shall have him! I’ll chase him ’round the moons of Nibia and ’round the Antares Maelstrom and ’round perdition’s flames before I give him up!” This quote taken from the Star Trek movie: The Wrath of Kahn, pretty well sums up my feelings towards the novel: The Museum of Innocence. It tasks me! Written by Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk in 2008, it is set in a 1970s Istanbul, but time period doesn’t really matter because, as with all the Pamuk novels I’ve read so far, the main character suddenly falls in love with a woman pretty much out of the blue, and man is he selfishly blind to the fact that he is destroying the object of his passion. Like the man whose pet bird is about to fly out the window, his hand closes around her with a deadly desperation: He would rather the bird dead than free. After a few books of this sort of thing, I abandoned Pamuk, because I was fed up with listening to these worthless, whiny guys, so annoying! Even so, The Museum of Innocence would not leave me alone; like I said: it tasks me.
“It was the happiest moment of my life, though I didn’t know it.” When I read the opening line of Museum of Innocence, I was immediately intrigued little knowing that the speaker would turn out to be a jackass. When I read this opening line, other greats in the opening line department materialized in my mind: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” and “Call me Ishmael.” Maybe I should have reminded myself that I do not like A Tale of Two Cities or Moby Dick; maybe I should have taken the hint.
Now I will freely admit that The Museum of Innocence is beautifully written, in truth a compelling read that immerses the reader in a Turkish culture with Dissociative identity disorder the symptoms of which, according to the DSM-5 include: “the presence of two or more distinct personality states.” Thus while the two faces of Istanbul are battling it out in the background striving to establish a single identity amidst frequent coups, wealthy Kemal pursues the shop girl Fusun in the foreground. Unwilling to allow her entry into his westernized world of abundance, he pursues her into an impoverished reality from which the country cannot seem to escape. He is 30; she is 18: two people from vastly different universes that cannot come to terms.
The Museum of Innocence is the story of an obsession made concrete as Kemal creates a museum to his Fusun filling it with mementos of their time together as if he could recreate her. That’s what he, descending into madness, thinks while in fact the truth is: It is a museum to his obsession. Fusun is a fiction in the sense that Kemal’s obsession has prevented her, like the caged bird, from ever becoming real. Kemal is a fiction, for he too is imprisoned by his obsession. In the end, all we’re left with is a building with a bunch of crap in it that no one cares about and two innocents who never grew up into full fledged humans. Yes, Pamuk presents the world, his world with a mastery well deserving of a Nobel prize. My Name is Red and Snow were great works; The Museum of Innocence is greater.
In conclusion, I hope this review will assuage the ghosts of The Museum of Innocence and let them rest in peace; let them quit haunting me; on second thought: What would life be without these ghosts, friends to share life with, to enhance the experience of living and breathing. Many thanks to Orhan Pamuk for all his whiny guy novels, but especially Museum of Innocence: 5 1/2 stars out of 5.