Is there a place other than church where we can be pure? Are there pure mistakes? Are there pure hearts? The Museum of Innocence proves all of them are possible. Through love.
Having recently returned from Istanbul without reading the book first but enthralled by the intimate atmosphere of the museum itself, I decided to also read the book while my memories of Istanbul itself were fresh. It didn’t even take the entire book to make me long for going back and spending other nights in Istanbul. This book has made me fall in love again with the same person.
Kemal is engaged to Sibel, a well-mannered higher-class woman of twenty and while they make preparations for their engagement party at the Hilton, where all the upper class families would attend, he meets Füsun, a distant impoverished relative. She is 18 and beautiful, enchanting and delicate. Füsun gives her virginity to Kemal under no conditions, while Sibel has done the same thing a few months before under the promise of marriage. They meet for 44 days in his Merhamet apartments (the author notes that Merhamet means “mercy”), then after his successful public engagement party, Füsun disappears and he cannot find her. What follows are 200 pages of suffering, while he falls ill with longing for her, desiring her and searching for her. He finally breaks his engagement with Sibel, although this attracts public disgrace in a not-yet-so-Westernized Istanbul, and he finds Füsun who is already married with Feridun. Then Kemal waits for eight full years for her to divorce, seeing her 4 times a week in her family’s house, after which they get engaged and spend an intense night making love, while Kemal finds himself at the height of happiness. The next day she dies in a car accident and Kemal’s suffering channels itself into creating the actual museum: a collection of the objects that connected the two of them in time, such as dresses, earrings, clocks, postcards and many more.
For people who have loved passionately, pathetically, obsessively, burning with desire and hopelessness, the book is a masterpiece lesson in … waiting. Drawing heavily on Marques’ Love in the time of Cholera, where the protagonist also waits 60 years for his beloved to be free and win her over again, we learn along so many pages how incredibly powerful waiting for love is. Waiting to be happy, not as a limbo state, but as an actively embellished and construed reality. Kemal waits for Füsun for 8 years until they get close again in all the manners possible. Their innocence is preserved in the way they talk with their eyes, in the way they draw energy from each other’s furtive gestures, from the way they are loyal in their unexpressed passion to each other. To the reader, the only question remains, why not earlier? But then we wouldn’t learn about the strength of love and the fleeting happiness of the protagonists would not justify the collector’s passion anymore.
An unrelenting search for love’s higher still human dimensions, a story of societal class and passion’s transcendence through appearances, a story of suffering and loss, a story about normality and dedication, a powerful lesson in going all the way for love. These pages stem with hope and emotion, the very same one would experience when walking in the evenings on the elegant, lively, intricately mysterious streets of Istanbul, hand in hand with their beloved. Because “love, like a newspaper column, has to make us happy now”.