“Time had not faded my memories (as I had prayed to God it might), nor had it healed my wounds as it is said always to do. I began each day with the hope that the next day would be better, my recollections a little less pointed, but I would awake to the same pain, as if a black lamp were burning eternally inside me, radiating darkness.”
— Orhan Pamuk, The Museum of Innocence
I must say, when I first started reading this book, I groaned inwardly. I had come across it while I was researching the Turkish word huzun (melancholia). However, I’m not a big fan of books with romantic storylines (I had my fill as a teen), and when I found out this particular romantic storyline was between two cousins, Kemal, a rich 30 year old who happens to be engaged, and 18 year old Fusun, a poor shopkeeper, I groaned even more.
Kemal is creepy! His obsession with Fusun didn’t sound believable at all to me. He gets to the point of collecting all of Fusun’s cigarette butts for his museum which is in honour of her, as well as other knick-knacks. I don’t think many men would collect their loved one’s cigarette butts and label them by date collected. Kemal reminds me a bit of Bella from Twilight in the sense that he dumps all his friends and family to obsessively mope over his love. This particular sort of angst isn’t becoming in someone over the age of 16.
The book did have some redeeming points. I’ve never read any books set in Turkey before and Pamuk sets the book in an interesting time period (the 1970s) when Turkey was still traditional but moving towards the modern. On top of that, there’s the political unrest. I think that made the story slightly more interesting. Discussions on the clashes of cultures between traditional Turkey and modern Turkey, including Turkish elites who had been educated in Europe and America, were interesting. I wish this part had been elaborated more because I would have liked a more in-depth comparison.
I got annoyed by the one-dimensional portrayal of women. I feel that Kemal only fell in love with Fusun because she was beautiful and had entered a beauty pageant. Kemal’s fiancée stayed with him despite knowing he cheated. Women were obviously looked at as mere trophies. Then again, that’s true in a lot of places even now.
I did get a Proustian feel while reading it. The protagonist’s musings were indeed very introspective but more obsessive than Proust’s, obsessive to a point that they didn’t seem believable, I’d say. Kemal was definitely absolutely obsessed and extreme but reading his thoughts was interesting.
Maybe not the best book to read on Christmas day but I’m glad I finally read something by Pamuk.