Recently, Nobel Prize-winning Turkish author Orhan Pamuk established a “Museum of Innocence” in his native Istanbul. Although it’s not “spectacular or monumental,” the “museum” is ingenious in its simplicity. It houses relics of every day Turkish life in the second half of the 20th century.
“Our daily lives are honorable, and their objects should be preserved,” said Pamuk. “It’s not all about the glories of the past. It’s the people and their objects that count.”
He adapted the idea for the collection from his book, The Museum of Innocence, which follows the travails of a young man named Kemal who is engaged to Sibel. Both are from prominent families that adhere to strict cultural rules about marriage and chastity. Things get complicated, however, when Kemal becomes infatuated with Füsun, an attractive young woman who also happens to be a distant relation. As he pursues Füsun over an 8-year period, beginning in 1975, Kemal amasses a collection of objects that chronicle his life and passions. His obsession consumes him so much that he ignores the social and political upheavals occurring in Turkey at the same time.
The real museum contains items Pamuk collected from various resources. There are China figurines, old shaving kits, a film projector and toothbrushes. He’d conceived of the idea over a decade ago, along with the book. The space occupied by the museum was originally meant to open with the novel’s publication, but was beset with delays. Working closely with a team of architects, artists and product designers, it took Pamuk another 4 years to complete the project.
The Museum of Innocence” was Pamuk’s first novel after winning the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature, the first Nobel to be awarded to a Turkish citizen. Pamuk has sold over 11 million books in 60 languages, making him Turkey’s best-selling writer. His outspokenness has also made him perhaps its most controversial. In 2005, he was charged with “insulting Turkishness” over his sharp remarks about the World War I massacre of Armenians. He was eventually acquitted, but the ordeal only intensified Pamuk’s concerns about free speech issues. It also caught the world’s attention and led some to question Turkey’s admission into the European Union.
Pamuk remains undeterred. “When I look back on my life up to the age of 54, I see a person who has worked long hours at a desk, in both happiness and in misery,” he declares in an autobiographical statement. “I have written my books with care, patience, and good intentions, believing in each and every one.”
That is the true spirit of a writer; a philosophy all aspiring scribes should adopt.