When Orhan Pamuk envisioned the story behind his classic novel, The Museum of Innocence, he actually envisioned it in two parts: the novel itself, and the museum.
The story of Kemal’s obsessive love for Fusun, embodied in a museum of objects Kemal stole from her, is entirely fictional. Yet Pamuk has taken his literary inspiration and used it, over the course of the past 12 years, to construct a true Museum of Innocence based on descriptions from the book. Inaugurated in the spring of this year, The Museum of Innocence is open to the public today in Istanbul.
According to Pamuk, it is the only museum in existence to be based on a novel.
Located in a small, nondescript house in the backstreets of the Beyoglu district, stepping into The Museum of Innocence is like stepping into another world- an Istanbul of another era.
Organized exactly as it is described in the novel, the museum features 83 display cases- one for each chapter. Earrings, dresses, ceramic dogs, cigarette butts, lottery tickets, and match books are among the thousands of objects laid out. They are all items Fusun once owned or touched, and which helped feed Kemal’s infatuation over the years. Pamuk collected the artifacts continuously over 12 years while writing the novel.
The museum is also meant to reflect Istanbul society of the time period- the late 1970s, early 1980s. In his quest for Fusun, Kemal neglects his westernized, bourgeoisie life- filled with people trying desperately to act European, but still clinging hopelessly to their conservative values.While this struggle continues today in Istanbul, Pamuk’s novel, and now his museum, give us a highly insightful view into these cultural attitudes.
I did not have the opportunity to visit The Museum of Innocence while traveling in Istanbul two months ago. Having now read the novel, however, I am dying to see it. Incredibly unique and personal, there is something both eerie and nostalgic about this place.
Orhan Pamuk really knows how to build a story- pun intended.