Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence

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The idea for the Orhan Pamuk Museum of Innocence in Istanbul was based on his novel of the same name, and was conceived at the same time as the idea for the book. They simultaneously came into thought in the 1990s, and the novel was published in 2008 while the museum opened later, in 2012.

For those of you unfamiliar with The Museum of Innocence, all I will say is read it, as I don’t want to tell you more for fear of spoiling the experience. What I will provide are my impressions of the exhibition spread over four floors of this five storey house, once home to the actual Keskin family who feature in the book.

Step into another dimension in the Museum of Innocence

The entry way is covered by the Spiral of Time, a floor design representing Pamuk’s view of memory. The golden dots that form the spiral are moments in time, which seen as a whole provide a pleasing and calming image. Unlike Aristotle who thought of time as a line joining moments which became the present, Pamuk sees the story as a line joining the objects described in the novel. When time is linear, the overall memory can be one of disappointment, but when it is understood as a series of moments, some joyous, some less so, the final memory is one that can be treasured.

I walk up the creaking wooden stairs, gliding my hand up the darkly burnished rail, and stop when I hear a bird tweeting. Slightly above me I see a tiny window, half open and complete with a curtain blowing in the breeze. There is a miniature canary in its cage, whittering happily away, and from outside I can hear simit sellers calling out their wares and the more distant the honking of car and ferry horns. I am immediately transported back outside to the streets of Istanbul, nostalgic for a lost past I am too young to have known.

This level, and the ones above, are crammed with artefacts that are proof of Kemal’s love for Füsun, souvenirs of his lost love. Everywhere I look there are references to sights, sounds and smells that relate to the story, but more significantly, quintessential symbols of Istanbul and Turkish life more generally.

Here, in no particular order, is what I remember most from the museum.

“Of all the traditions that say Turkey to me, the use of lemon cologne is the earliest and strongest memory I will always have”.

Lemon cologne - the essence of Turkey
How do you choose just one bottle of lemon cologne?
The ways we measure time ...
I'd wait a million hours for my one true love.
Do you remember your first kiss?

The agony of love is this...

Movie memorabilia – Kurban

Sacrificial rams

New Year’s Eve

Try your luck on the tombola board!

Raki and                                                                                                      Attitudes to women

In Turkey any time's a good time for raki.
Good girls or bad women? Who can tell?

The cigarette wall contains 4213 cigarette butts collected by Kemal. Each butt tells a story of his longing for Füsun.

Museum of Innocence - Evidence of love
Museum of Innocence - I’ll wait, of course
Museum of Innocence - A happy summer, very happy

I was very moved by my visit to the Orhan Pamuk Museum of Innocence, and seeing a visual interpretation of Orhan Pamuk’s writings. I’ve read all his book, and while I enjoyed The Museum of Innocence, the book which speaks to me most is Istanbul: Memories and the City. It reads like a sorrowful missive to a long lost love, full of melancholy and yearning for the one who remains imprinted on his soul. Füsun is Kemal’s Istanbul.

I have been greatly inspired by Orhan Pamuk. Here’s my account of the way Istanbul feels to me.

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One Comment

  1. It was a chilly and an extremely wet October day; we had walked around Gezi Park, but our real destination was Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence. The slippery cobbled paths going down to the museum soon did my bad back in, so by the time we reached the Museum of Innocence and paid to enter through a little window and told to leave our brollies outside, quite frankly all I needed was a large brandy with a double Nurofen chaser.

    My initial impression was one of interested delight, I hadn’t read the book, but my wife had, and she explained the significance of the exhibits as we went. I totally loved the ‘memory box,’ ‘collection of objects,’ style of presentation. However, by the time we’d ascended to the bedroom at the top, I felt the museum was contrived and monotonous. And unfortunately, that’s my lasting impression.

    I feel very sad that Orhan Pamuk is not a cherished Turkish author within Turkey, because he should be!

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