The Museum of Innocence

On our last day in Turkey before we headed back to the U.S., as the last thing we did before heading to the airport, we walked from our hotel to the Museum of Innocence, a quirky museum in the Cukurcuma neighborhood of Beyoglu, Istanbul, that is based on the Orhan Pamuk book also called the Museum of Innocence. In a nutshell, the museum and novel are about a love story between a wealthy businessman named Kemal and a younger, poorer, distant relative of his, Fusun. Kemal is actually engaged to another woman of his same social class and circle, but after meeting Fusun at a shop where he went to purchase a handbag for his fiancee, he immediately becomes entranced with Fusun, and they begin a very quick and intense emotional and physical love affair. The museum documents the entire book in the form of collected pieces of jewelry, cups, glasses, and other random items; vignettes, stories, newspaper articles, and other objects from that period of the late 70s to early 80s in Istanbul. It stands somewhat as a historical piece depicting the culture of the time then in Istanbul and Turkey overall, and also as a more narrow story of Kemal and Fusun. The general themes that are quickly picked up just by visiting the museum and without reading the book are the cultural differences between East and West (they often talk about how those in Europe are “sophisticated, educated, and progressive,” and those in the East, or in Turkey specifically, are old-fashioned and regressive, stuck in a period of time that has passed. The museum also emphasizes the importance of female purity in Turkey and how virginity was of utmost importance until marriage; women who had sexual relations with men prior to wedlock, regardless of whether it was the man they ended up marrying, were seen as scarred and dirty, and ultimately “lesser than.” The museum even depicted newspaper columns that actually showed the FACES of women who purportedly had had sex before marriage, basically warning men, “Hey, these women are impure! Beware!” We spent a couple of hours at the museum, listening to the audio guide by section. I was a bit intrigued, so I decided that when we came home, I’d get the audio book to see how the book was.

I’m about a few hours into the book, and it’s definitely a very intense love affair, narrated by Kemal, who frankly comes off as obsessed, a little narcissistic, narrow-minded, and selfish, and most definitely creepy. I’m not totally sure I want to continue listening, but what the heck, I’ve already started… in total, it’s 20+ hours long! I suppose, though, that’s the general theme of major love stories that have made history, ranging from Lolita to Anna Karenina to Madame Bovary. However, the difference here is that while I’ve actually read Lolita and Madame Bovary, this book veers on the side of Anna Karenina where the guy in question just keeps droning on and on, constantly obsessing, resulting in confirming exactly how creepy, stalker-ish, and selfish he is (well, isn’t that the theme of all men of all time?). It’s kind of amazing how over history, stories of selfish, obsessive, creepy men make history so often, yet as soon as you hear of a selfish woman, all bets are off.

Kemal is truly ridiculous, though, and in many ways, a total loser in my mind. I have very little to no pity for him as a character, as he’s highly unrelatable and pathetic. Even after he breaks off his engagement with Sibel, his fiancee, and finds out Fusun is married, he continues to try to pursue her, and even goes on to INVITE himself over for dinner/coffee/tea at her home 3-4 nights a week for EIGHT YEARS, where she lives with her husband and parents. It’s truly insane and just borderline worthy of sticking this guy into a stray jacket. Honestly, I’m not sure I’d recommend the book to anyone unless they really wanted to read an obsessive man’s account of his ridiculous love for a woman, but hey, to each their own!

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