The Museum of Innocence


Review by Kevin Burke

For me it began on February 9, 2010 when I happened upon "The Museum of Innocence" at my local library. (The book was not on the shelves with the rest of the fiction but, based on the recent fame of Orhan Pamuk, on display near the front entrance.) On a whim I checked it out. Looking back on it now, my innocence at that moment matched the mood of the book's protagonist as he entered the Sanzelize Boutique on that fateful day, April 28, 1975. Neither of us knew what lay inside.

The beginning (excerpted in The New Yorker, I vaguely remembered) was a lot of fun, especially given the viewpoint of manly immorality which I shared with the author. But as I got further a fretfulness (bordering on panic) swept over me. I began to argue against the story line in a hundred ways. Why couldn't Kemal just snap out it? When I finished the pivotal chapter, The Engagement Party, I flung the book down in disgust and vowed to return it to the library immediately.

Then, to my horror and shame, I realized that not reading the book was causing me even more pain than reading the book. My "manly immorality" had dissolved into a mysterious numbness. The idea of amusing myself elsewhere was hopeless. Within minutes I was back into it and for the next ninety pages I read like a madman, desperate to find out how and when the two lovers would be reunited.

As the answer to this question became clear (on page 324) my spirits sank to a new low. Again I vowed to quit the book but it was no use. In my miserable addiction I mirrored Kemal in every way. I read joylessly - on the toilet, on subways platforms, in elevators.

On February 16, a week after I started the book, I met for the first time with a periodontist to discuss some overdue gum surgery. The doctor was a young man from a foreign country, as are most dentists in the U.S. these days, and was proceeding with great caution. He insisted on taking my blood pressure before doing anything else. To my great embarrassment, my blood pressure measured 170 over 90, a ridiculously high reading for me! I am usually more like 125 over 75. I made up a story about some stressful situations at work. How could I tell him the truth, that a novel had put me into a state of nervous exhaustion?

Three days later I returned to the same doctor to begin my procedure. By this time I had finished The Museum of Innocence. I was feeling much better. With some amazing double dealing at the end of the book (can't go into details), Mr. Pamuk, after tormenting me for almost 500 pages, had released me, although my life will never be quite the same.

I asked Dr. Koulianos (OK, he was Greek) to take my blood pressure again, if he didn't mind. He said he would be happy to do it. I was reclining in a 180 degree supine position, with a slight bend at the waist, in his chair. As he wrapped my arm, we discussed the vicissitudes of blood pressure, how it can go up or down from one day (or even from one hour) to the next.

He said to me, "Are you feeling relaxed at this moment?" I said, "Yes, I am."

20 Feb 2010, Kevin Burke


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You may start with the Wikipedia article about Orhan Pamuk to get more information on the writer of this book.

Orhan Pamuk was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006. You may read his Nobel Lecture: My Father's Suitcase

The official site of the writer is located at

The official site of “The Museum of Innocence” is located at (in Turkish).

Pamuk describes the relation between the novel and the museum as “The museum is not an illustration of the novel and the novel is not an explanation of the museum. They are two representations of one single story perhaps.” in an interview with German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

Pamuk is writing a series of articles, discussing the literary, philosophical and personal backgrounds of the novel and his thoughts on other great novels about love. These articles will also be linked here.

This section will be updated as more resources are available about the book.

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