April 30, 2012

Orhan Pamuk creates a museum to honor one of his novels


There is a hotel in Spain that is designed around Italo Calvino’s celebrated Invisible Cities, which sounds remarkably appealing so long as one of the themed rooms is not in the likeness of Armilla, the unfinished city.

A thematic hotel is one thing, but Nobel Prize laureate Orhan Pamuk has personally created a museum in honor of his 2008 novel, The Museum of Innocence.

This is no “look at the room I wrote this book in” sort of affair either.

According to Pamuk, building the museum has cost him roughly the equivalent of his entire Nobel Prize winnings. That’s $1.5 million.

The New York Times reports:

As the museum was preparing to open late last week, with workmen hauling around ladders and a staff member stocking the gift-shop shelves with Mr. Pamuk’s books, the author himself was going full tilt, giving orders and making last-minute tweaks as he walked a reporter through the displays.

He said the museum cost him about what he received for the Nobel — roughly $1.5 million — including what he paid for the house 12 years ago, when he had the idea for the project. Then there is the amount of time he has devoted to it on and off over the past dozen years: by his estimate about half a book’s worth, a lot considering that his novels tend to run to 500 pages or more.

The museum’s displays are organized according to the story line of “The Museum of Innocence,” which opens as a wealthy, self-centered young man is making love with Fusun, a distant relative and store clerk he has met while shopping for his soon-to-be fiancée.

There is a wall of cigarettes — 4,213 of them — lifted from the novel’s plot and mounted on a wall behind plexiglass. There are soda bottles and other period-accurate artifacts from the book, which explores the violent consumerism of the then burgeoning Turkish middle class. Pamuk insists that the museum is not a byproduct of the novel, but rather something that was part of his plan to begin with, evidenced in this selection from the Times article:

“And as I softly bit her ear, her earring must have come free and, for all we knew, hovered in midair before falling of its own accord,” an opening line reads. Mr. Pamuk paused in front of the first of 83 display cases — there is one for each chapter of the book — and pointed to a single earring. Then he moved along to other vitrines, talking about how items were chosen and how a few displays were still works in progress even after all these years of preparation.

“As far as I know this is the first museum based on a novel,” he said. “But it’s not that I wrote a novel that turned out to be successful and then I thought of a museum. No, I conceived the novel and the museum together.”

A museum about a novel about middle class objectification of humanity … One has to wonder if this sort of project was what the Swedish Academy had in mind when Pamuk was bestowed with the award.

Paul Oliver is the marketing manager of Melville House. Previously he was co-owner of Wolfgang Books in Philadelphia.