Thursday, February 10, 2011

Love Me Tender, Love Me True

Just a few days back my wife literally forced me to watch a romantic comedy – romcom to her. My sweet wife (along with a bunch of her friends) is a die-hard fan of such romcoms and Jane Austen like period piece romances. On the other hand, very few of my friends will blame me as a sentimentalist. I hardly read normal fiction, have not touched any romantic novel in years; hardly watch movies; even listening to music is not something I do normally. Of course the movie ended with the promise that everyone will live happily ever after.
The book I wanted to write about today is The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk. I have no right to review it as this is an absolutely rare book, which I started but could not finish. Many people believe that Nobel Prize in literature in   reality means the end of creativity for the laureate. This book, coming out after Pamuk’s crowning glory – at a relatively young age (at the age of 54 in 2006) – definitely does not provide any confirmation for such thoughts. Pamuk is of course best known for his classic My Name Is Red (1998). But at least two of his later books have satisfied critiques and ordinary readers alike – his political novel Snow (2002) and his romantic exploration of his beloved city Istanbul: Memories of a City (2004).
The Museum of Innocence, originally published as Masumiyet Muzesi in Turkish in 2008 is a story of an obsessive and doomed love. The hero of the novel Kemal is the son of one of the richest businessmen in Turkey, engaged to a suitable girl. But days before his marriage, he hopelessly falls in love with a young and not-so-well-to-do shop assistant Fusun, who is also his distant relative. Fusun is beautiful and has a charm very different from his upper-class fiancée, which Kemal finds difficult to resist. For Kemal, it does not take much time to lose Fusun but he becomes obsessed with Fusun and everything associated with Fusun. He ends up destroying his relations with the girl he was engaged with and also hope of any meaningful career. Slowly he becomes so engrossed with his obsession that he ends up losing Fusun, the human being and reduces her merely to the object of his obsession. Over a period of three decades from 1975, pathologically obsessed Kemal goes on collecting every little object related to Fusun or that era and builds a museum of innocence. Kemal gradually forgets that Fusun was the love of his life – however impossible and doomed it was – and tries to find solace in objectifying his undying love. Fusun is just a site, where Kemal empties his emotion. Had it not been Fusun – it seems - he would have perhaps found someone else, as he just needed a blood and flesh character to be obsessed with, to waste his life away in search of such pure romance, which cannot possibly exist in real life.
Apart from Kemal’s objectification of love, the story is also a commentary on women in Turkish society – how girls are stereotyped and their roles and attitude are straitjacketed. They carry the guilt of pre-marital sex or the stigma of lose morality when they participate in a beauty contest or act in movies. Overall the entire story unfolds in the backdrop of gradual opening up of Turkey (more in a social sense than economic) to European influence.
The book starts with Kemal noting that the happiest moment of his life came (and went), at a time when he hardly recognized or understood it. This is something like a universal truth, which we all come to recognize. Equally, we all try to build our own museums of everyday life – whether we admit it or not – we all try to preserve that first love letter, pressed rose petals, a hairpin here, a pencil there…..however fastidiously we try to clean up our home or office, we get sentimental with apparently meaningless items and keep them safely locked up, as they carry memories of some association. It is a long book and as Kemal goes on collecting souvenirs and explain their significance, a miasma of heartbreak slowly envelopes the entire city of Istanbul and gradually sucks the reader into it. As he goes on telling Kemal’s story, Pamuk reduces the apparent love story into a pure and condensed emotion – it is so pure that one finds it difficult to bear.
Like everyone else I thought I had known love and the pain of a heart break. I also thought – like all of you – that my love story was the most unique. Yet Pamuk made me intolerably sick – it was as if his love was like Essential Oils – it is so pure that you cannot use it directly. For ordinary mortals like us it has to be diluted and presented in beautiful bottles of perfumes – we are not pure enough to use it in that condensed form –we cannot handle that pure an emotion in our real life. Kemal’s fetishism is just a ploy to challenge us – how pure is your emotion? In real life, love (and perhaps, everything) is so complicated and multilayered that neither romcoms can come true nor can we have Kemal’s purity. Pamuk shows us that inspite of his success, his long career in literature and Nobel Prize, he has been able to retain a certain innocence of heart, which makes him truly great. Perhaps this is not the best of his novels (for me it has to be My Name Is Red) and definitely it does not break any new ground in terms of form or other experiments, yet it establishes Pamuk’s persuading power as a writer and his emotional innocence, which he incredibly retains at this age.
I envy my lovely wife and admit that I cannot enjoy such simple and innocent pleasures of life like her romcoms. I also hopelessly admit that I do not have Kemal’s purity of heart to give up everything for love. I would rather try to lay my hands on his latest book - The Naïve and Sentimental Novelist (it is on literary criticism) rather than giving another shot at it, yet if you have not read Museum of Innocence, I will strongly suggest you try it once, just to know yourself better.


  1. भावनाएं जब किसी भी रुप और स्तर पर `निर्मम` हो जाए तो रिश्तों को बहा ले जाती है। ईमानदारी तो चाहिए लेकिन कुछ न कुछ प्रैक्टिकेलिटी की मिलावट भी जरुरी है,ठीक वैसे ही जैसे 22 कैरेट सोना। हालांकि आदमी भावनाओं की वजह से ही जड़ नही है, और ये भी सच है कि भावनाएं और रिश्ते केवल गणित के दायरे में नही आंके जा सकते, लेकिन रिश्तों के गणित से भी परिचित होने की जरुरत तो है ही। और इसमें भी कोई दोराय नही कि गणित की अधिकता रिश्तों में शुष्कता भी भर देती है।...

  2. You can either have happiness (which is commonplace) or you can have Fusun, by losing someone you love can have your choice...

  3. I am going to read it ... thanks to your review ...

    best wishes,


  5. Its true, your description of pamuk's ability ti describe pure love..throughout the reading i kept questioning myself if i could ever give up so much for love.. and after reading the first 100 pages i was sure, that i wont be able to. I hope you went on to read the sentimental novelist... I have read and reviewed it sometime in the near past