Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence

The Turkish Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk has finally opened his museum and compiled the catalogue, but, he says, writing remains his life.
The Turkish author Orhan Pamuk has written multiple bestsellers and won the Nobel Prize. Murad Sezer / Reuters
The Turkish author Orhan Pamuk has written multiple bestsellers and won the Nobel Prize. Murad Sezer / Reuters

Despite having turned 60, Orhan Pamuk is showing no signs of slowing down. It is a beautiful autumn afternoon on the Princes' Island of Büyükada, a short ferry ride from central Istanbul, and the Nobel Laureate has been at his desk since mid-morning working with pen and paper on his new novel, A Strangeness in Mind. It's a tale of a yogurt seller from Anatolia who comes to Istanbul to find his fortune; not only does it chart the migration that affected the city in the 1960s but it also chronicles the explosive rise of Turkey's largest metropolis from one million to 14 million inhabitants over the past six decades.

"Istanbul is changing so much," says Pamuk. "We judge a city not only for its touristic visions, landscapes and the preservation of its old buildings but also by the happiness of its population. Turkey is getting richer and I think it's changing for the better. But this success causes some destruction to the old textures of Istanbul and, unfortunately, that means modernity. It's so hard to preserve it, so I am critical of that."

This is a story that the bestselling author, at times criticised in his home country for his often controversial, outspoken views, wants to expand on next year when his novel is finished. But for now, he's agreed to a rare interview to talk about the culmination of his latest project, The Museum of Innocence, which consists of a book, a museum and a reference catalogue. The novel was released to critical acclaim in 2008; the museum opened in April and now he has completed the companion guide, The Innocence of Objects.

"I want to clarify this misconception that I wrote a popular, successful novel and then decided to make a museum out of it," says the bestselling author of My Name Is Red, The Black Book and Snow. "No. I thought of the museum and the novel together. And in fact, I wrote the novel buying objects of daily life from the flea markets of Istanbul - things like old mechanical taxi meters and ashtrays. I then wrote the novel, looking at these objects. So in that sense, they helped plot the story."

The book and the museum follow the romance between Kemal, an upper-class businessman who becomes infatuated with Füsun, a twice-removed cousin who lives in the working-class Istanbul suburb Çukurcuma. The catalogue, on the other hand, illustrates the painstaking backstory to the museum, which houses thousands of objects and which Pamuk and a number of Istanbul's best artists and architects spent the best part of the past four years curating. Indeed, Pamuk bought the building which the museum is housed in 12 years ago.

"The initial idea was to open on the same day as the novel was published," says Pamuk. "But this was not realistic, as finishing the novel was a hard labour and I needed more time to do the museum. When the novel was finished my studio in Cihangir was overflowing with objects and the museum was still in development."

Despite the realisation of one of his greatest dreams, Pamuk, who has sold more than 11 million copies of his books, says that he is still not satisfied, which partly explains why he is so keen to complete his next one. "I don't feel like I have achieved something, so in that sense I'm not proud," he says. "If I had that kind of sentiment I wouldn't be writing. I still believe that I have to prove something and there is something lacking in the world related to me and I have to prove that."

Pamuk also admits to being melancholic because he will soon jet off to the US to resume his teaching post at Columbia University, where he lectures one day a week. He loves the time he spends on Büyükada because of the privacy he enjoys - his apartment is hidden down an overgrown, ramshackle path and even his neighbours don't know they have a famous author living next door - but also because of the glorious Bosphorus views from his writing desk. "Every morning I get up and jump into the sea at 7 o'clock," he says. "I don't look at newspapers or read my emails until 12, then I write more than half of the day doing an assignment which I self-impose. So I work, work, work."

He doesn't show any signs of letting up. As the interview closes he briefly inspects his garden before turning on his heels and hurrying back indoors to continue work on that unfinished novel. "All of my friends are telling me, 'Orhan, you are working 11 to 12 hours a day. You have achieved so much. Why don't you take a rest?'" he says. "But on the other hand, when I write I am a happier person. Really, there is no meaning in life if I don't write and read."


Ÿ For more information on the Museum of Innocence, visit www.masumiyetmuzesi.org

Published: November 28, 2012 04:00 AM


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