Turkish novelist and Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk describes his latest work as a love story that "doesn't put love on a pedestal." Instead, The Museum of Innocence is about one man's obsession with a beautiful young woman — and the museum collection he dedicates to the affair that derailed his life.
Set in Istanbul in the 1970s and 1980s, the novel focuses on the subtle ways people communicate love — including glances, silences and cherished mementos.
"This is love in a semirepressed society, where communication between men and women is limited, where sex outside of marriage — especially before marriage — is also a taboo," Pamuk tells Robert Siegel.
Pamuk began collecting the objects that his protagonist Kemal would save before he even began writing the novel. And, in an unusual instance of literature melding into real life, he plans to display those objects in an actual "Museum of Innocence," which he hopes to open in Istanbul in July 2010.
The idea for the museum came, in part, from the author's visits to small collections around the world. Pamuk says he's always been attracted to small museums and the "melancholy" that seems to permeate them.
"I like the feeling that you are out of the modern times, and the feeling that there was investment to preserve the past, but now no one is inside except sleepy museum guards," he explains. "That makes me feel the ephemeral side of human life. That makes me understand our vanities."
As for the museum he plans to open, he says, "I hope it will be a melancholy place, but of course, with some humor as well — just like the novel."
The Museum of Innocence is the author's first novel since he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006. Pamuk says the prize has made him a more responsible writer:
"Now that I have more readers, I want to write even better. ... I'm a more busy man, but my love of literature is as alive as ever. The Nobel Prize was not a pension for me; it just came in the middle of my career."