The Museum of Innocence is both a novel by Orhan Pamuk and a museum he has set up. From the very beginnings of the project, since the 1990s, Pamuk has conceived of novel and museum together.
The novel, which is about love, is set between 1974 and the early ’00s, and describes life in Istanbul between 1950 and 2000 through memories and flashbacks centred around two families – one wealthy, the other lower middle class.
The museum presents what the novel’s characters used, wore, heard, saw, collected and dreamed of, all meticulously arranged in boxes and display cabinets.
You have a chance to see, for example, 4,213 stubbed-out cigarettes displayed. The cigarette butts represent those collected by Kemal, the protagonist in the novel, and smoked by Fusun, the young woman he loved.
Describing the initial idea of the museum, Pamuk stated:
Instinctively, I started collecting objects from day-to-day life in Istanbul in the 1960s and ’70s, buying them from flea markets or taking them from friends and acquaintances, with the excuse that “someday I might make a weird museum out of it.” An old DDT pump for mosquitoes, manufactured in Turkey; a meter like those that used to be near the left rear-view mirror of Istanbul taxis; a large, thick brass tap, of the kind I’d last seen in childhood; a locally made toy train set.
All of these objects and more filled my office and my home, but while I boldly told my close friends that these things would become part of a museum collection one day, I still wasn’t entirely sure who or what should be the subject of this museum.
In 1999, I purchased an aged and frayed four-floored little 19th-century house on a back street near my office in the poor neighborhood of Cukurcuma. If this house was going to be a museum, then the imaginary people who lived in it should use the objects that were now piling up in my office. So I began to imagine a story that fit in with the street the house was on, with the neighborhood itself, and with the objects I had collected.
Over the course of eight years, this story evolved into a novel, rewritten over and over again as I found new things to display in the museum, until it was finally published in Istanbul in 2008, and in English in 2009 under the title “The Museum of Innocence.”