"The Museum of Innocence" is a 2009 novel by Orhan Pamuk, Turkey's only nobel prize winner in Literature. The book was his first published after winning the prize. The book was written in Turkish and translated into English the same year it was released.
The book is a long love story, following the love of Kemal, a rich young man in Istanbul for his younger "cousin" Fusun, (who is not actually a blood relative), over the course of a decade. At first drawn into an affair for her, she later disappears and reappears married to a young man with dreams of being a film maker. Thwarted in love and having lost his Sorbonne-educated fiance, Kemal spends almost a decade bankrolling a movie for them, and being friendly with Fusun and her family. Much of the novel's seven hundred page length is a rather eventless narrative of Kemal's feelings for Fusun, although the social and political climate in Instanbul is a constant backdrop to the slow moving story.
It took me two months to read this book, off and on, and I had a mixed reaction to it. Some of the parts of the book work rather nice: like Marcel Proust, a named inspiration, the book tends to focus on how individual moments of time and experiences feel, rather than on movement of the plot. The book does obliquely bring up many issues. The social stratification of Turkish life, the vapid nature of Turkish pop culture, the relationship between Turkey and the West, and the relationship between men and women in Turkey, are all important parts of the book, although they are not addressed directly by the narrator.
In particular, one of the interesting things about the book's treatment of Turkey and the West is that most of the characters of the book, who are secularized Turks, don't speak of Islamic identity as a thing in itself, but as a state of lack, with the eventual goal being a total adaptation of "Western attitudes". Attitudes towards sexuality, especially virginity, are acknowledged as being the result of social inertia, rather than having any reason. In a world where Islamic fundamentalism is an organized, proselytizing cause, the idea that Islam was once viewed as something akin to an old car that would be replaced as soon as possible is somewhat odd.
The book, like many love stories, portrays the love affair somewhat dully. We are not really shown why Fusun is so enchanting to Kemal: he talks at length about his love for her, but she reveals very little personality, and agency of her own. Only at one point in the book, where she gets a driver's license despite refusing to pay a bribe, does she show much of a personality. However, I think this was a deliberate decision on the point of the author: the narrator views Fusun as an object, or perhaps an experience, rather than a person in her own right.
This book was long, and slow, but it was certainly worth it, especially for people who are interested in contemporary literature of the middle east.