Vaiju Naravane takes a tour of Orhan Pamuk’s Masumiyet Muzesi (Museum of Innocence) – the museum based on the book.
“It’s not as if I wrote a successful novel and then said, ‘let me turn it into a museum.’ No, I conceived both the novel and the museum together,” the Nobel Prize-winning Turkish writer, Orhan Pamuk, told The Hindu in an exclusive interview on the eve of the opening of his Museum of Innocence or Masumiyet Muzesi in Istanbul.
The museum is housed in the very building described in the novel, a building Pamuk bought before he began writing his book and which he slowly peopled with his imaginary characters and the objects he kept collecting as the characters grew. This is where the novel’s heroine Fusun lives with her parents, where Kemal catches up with her after a long separation.
Although he bought the house as early as 1999, it took him until 2008 to finish his novel, the story of star-crossed lovers — a rich boy and his poor, distant, but stunningly beautiful cousin. The novel was a runaway success translated into some 60 languages. “I began thinking of this novel in the mid-1990s, when I said to myself, I’ll buy a house and imagine a family living there and then chronicle their stories, their daily lives from the kitchen to the street, what they do or say and how they live. So I thought I would collect the objects of their ordinary lives and weave these into my story — place them in the hands of the family. I wrote the novel as I bought the objects and I also wanted to write about the making of the museum as part of the novel. I don’t know why I did this. But as always, a djinn entered me and I followed my inner footsteps.”
Going through the door is like walking through the looking glass, hurtling back in time. Arranged on three floors are the 83 chapters of his novel starting with a wall display of the “4,213 cigarette butts left behind by Fusun and carefully hoarded by Kemal, her desperate lover.” A small black and white video installation that recreates smoking gestures provides a commentary on social communication in the 1970s — how the cigarette is held, carried to the mouth, and how ash is tapped into the ashtray. Hundreds of objects, including photos, clothes, cutlery, home appliances, bibelots, paintings, jewellery and other bric-a-brac are lovingly composed into stunning tableaux contained in elegant wooden vitrines or cabinets, each one bearing the number of a chapter from the book.