Sunday, May 23, 2010

Museum of Innocence

Orhan Pamuk's new book of this title is brilliant! I've had some moments with his books, finding one or two of them quite putdownable - but this one is amazing.

It combines his (and my) love for Istanbul with the story of the main character's love for a woman, who, in good Turkish middle-class style of the 1970s, is unattainable. He did have a small fling with her, while approaching his prior-arranged engagement with someone else, but after the big engagement party (in which, and elsewhere, the Pamuk family makes a cameo appearance) she cut off contact - finally he finds her several months later, married to someone else. In the remainder of the book he describes his total anguish at missing her, spending time with her and not yet being with her. The feelings described make my heart go out to him.

Part of the book describes Istanbul; it also seems to be a love-story of Istanbul (Pamuk has recently written a number of books on his home city). I wondered if he had written the book after he left the city following the Armenian journalist Hrant Dink's assassination (in early 2007? I was in Istanbul on the same weekend) by some 16-year-old from the eastern provinces. Pamuk had himself been in some trouble with the law over mentioning the Armenian genocide. But it seems the book was certainly started in 2000 or so. It is set mostly in the same neighbourhoods in Beyoglu, and Nisantasi, which I so often walked through in my stays in that city (not least because I knew that Pamuk was from Nisantasi).

Like all Pamuk's books it's very slow, but I much prefer it to books like 'Snow' and 'Red' - this one I found very put-downable, and it's a must for anyone who loves Istanbul.