Have you been inspired to go to a city because of a book you read ? You know that feeling of turning every pages and as you move along with the story, your imagination not only tries to put a face to the characters, but it inspires you that dream of being able to visit the story location one day?
This is what Nobel-laureate Turkish author Orhan Pamuk novel The Museum of Innocence (Masumiyet Müzesi) did to me, that I find myself saving vacation leave and money to travel to Istanbul, with my copy of the book in hand.
My trip to the district of Beyoğlu , the neighborhood of Çukurcuma has one specific goal, to find the red-painted 19th century building that now houses the real objects of the fictional love story of Kemal, a wealthy businessman and Füsun, a poorer distant relative.
But the novel itself is more than a love story, it will be a disservice to the brilliant Pamuk to believe it is nothing but.
The story is about a person social standing and how it affects the choices he or she made, it is about female identity at a strictly conservative and often dominated male society, it is about the cultural clash of the East and the West. Though the setting of the novel was 1970s Istanbul, but all topics are relevant and important, specifically for a nation that is even geographically divided into two continents.
The novel itself is easy to comprehend, it is easy to visualize the trinkets that Kemal has collected over the years and the museum painstaking creation of the objects and memorabilia mentioned on the book is certainly not just a visual accompaniment to the story depicted, it provides an alternate notion and defies the traditional definition of what a museum is about.
This is best described on the “Modest Manifesto for Museums”, a museum guidelines found on the panel board at the ground floor, best explain by Guideline No. 11:
On this alone, even if you haven’t read the book and find yourself in Istanbul, I urge you to visit this one of a kind museum.
True enough, the collections are what you can easily find in one home, on this case the items you find on a typical home in Istanbul back in the seventies. The collections arranged carefully into 83 display cases , in accordance to the story line, with shelves dedicated to the characters of the novel.
From the ceramic dogs, the bottles of Meltem drinks, a toothbrush, a comb, a pocket watch, driving license, everything is neatly arranged and display at the second floor of the museum, but the visual representation at the ground floor of the 4,213 Füsun’s cigarette butts that Kemal has collected over the years is the most striking and powerful.
Excerpt from the book:
“During my eight years of going to the Keskins’ for supper, I was able to squirrel away 4,213 of Füsun’s cigarette butts. Each one of these had touched her rosy lips and entered her mouth, some even touching her tongue and becoming moist, as I would discover when I put my finger on the filter soon after she had stubbed the cigarette out.”
At the third level as well, is the culmination of the story itself.
Here you can find the visual representation of the room, the place where protagonist Kemal spent the rest of his days after the fateful incident that separated him from his beloved Fusun for life, with the closing remark.