NABOKV-L post 0018721, Fri, 30 Oct 2009 16:25:54 -0400

Sighting -- Lolita on the Bosporus ...

Lolita on the Bosporus

Published: October 29, 2009

Orhan Pamuk favors short chapters that lead the reader from one entry to the next, turning back to correct or amend. He is directorial in “The Museum of Innocence,” his enchanting new novel of first love painfully sustained over a lifetime. In 83 chapters, a privileged Istanbul resident named Kemal tells of his obsession with Fusun, a beautiful shopgirl. The story of this ill-fated passion is preceded by a map of the city. Pamuk’s earlier readers may recall the broad sweep of the Bosporus, the mosques and market streets, the Pamuk Apartments in Nisantasi, from his historical and autobiographical book of wonders, “Istanbul: Memories and the City.” Kemal renders all views — the abandoned apartment of his transporting sexual encounters with Fusun, the years of twisting his life out of shape to honor his enduring passion. He writes from Istanbul, not America where he studied, not Paris where upper-crust Turks were acquiring their gloss of “free and modern.”

[ ... ]

Part of the delight in “The Museum of Innocence” is in scouting out the serious games, yet giving oneself over to the charms of Pamuk’s storytelling. He often makes use of genre, turns the expected response to his purpose. His 1998 book “My Name Is Red” may be claimed as a historical novel with an embedded mystery, and yet again as a political story — the miniatures of Eastern book art headed toward obsolescence, facing off with Western art, its perspective and freedom of invention. Such worldly engagement is of no concern to Kemal: “I have no desire to interrupt my story with descriptions of the street clashes between fervent nationalists and fervent Communists at that time, except to say what we were witnessing was an extension of the cold war.” It’s one of many denials that maintain his indifference to the political scene, and it’s in keeping with his character. A feckless soul, an aging bachelor living with his mother, he is dealt a position in a family business he barely attends to. Meanwhile, during the years of their separation, the beautiful Fusun has married a would-be movie director. Night after night Kemal joins them at her family’s dinner table, a threesome locked in a hopeless love story. It never occurs to the constant lover that Fusun may be ordinary — much like the adored girl in Nabokov’s “Lolita.” Kemal is chauffeured from his mother’s house in Nisantasi to Cukurcuma, passively watching the nightly news with Fusun’s family. Years flipping by, he tags along with the cinema crowd in Beyoglu, the beloved one aiming to be an actress. Kemal’s dogged endurance may try our patience, though his dead-end accounting provides a bleak comedy: “According to my notes, during the 409 weeks that my story will now describe, I went there for supper 1,593 times.” Maureen Freely’s translation captures the novelist’s playful performance as well as his serious collusion with Kemal. Her melding of tones follows Pamuk’s agility, to redirect our vision to the gravity of his tale: “This is not simply a story of lovers, but of the entire realm, that is, of Istanbul.”

[ ... ]

Maureen Howard’s new book, “The Rags of Time,” will be published this month, completing her cycle of novels based on the four seasons.

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors:,
Visit Zembla:
View Nabokv-L policies:
Visit "Nabokov Online Journal:"

Manage subscription options: