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The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk: Reading Group Guide

The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk: Reading Group Guide

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Published by Alfred A. Knopf
The questions, discussion topics, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s exploration of The Museum of Innocence, Orhan Pamuk’s enchanting tale of romantic obsession and shifting cultural mores.
The questions, discussion topics, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s exploration of The Museum of Innocence, Orhan Pamuk’s enchanting tale of romantic obsession and shifting cultural mores.

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Published by: Alfred A. Knopf on Aug 16, 2012
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09/29/2013

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Orhan Pamuk 
The Museum of Innocence
Reading Group Guide
An enchanting tale of romantic obsession and shifting cultural mores,
The Museum of Innocence
, Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk’s seventh novel, follows the well-stationed Kemal and hislifelong quest to possess the beautiful shopgirl Füsun. Sacrificing everything his family and friendsdeem valuable, Kemal honors his love through transports of the imagination and an ever-growingcollection of mementos. With his planned exhibition, Kemal wants “the world to take pride in thelives they live” (p. 518). Yet under Pamuk’s skilled direction,
The Museum of Innocence
also becomes, as Maureen Howard wrote in
The New York Times Book Review
, “the writer’s claim tohis workroom, where the gallery of his dreams displays not ephemera devoted to delusion but closeattention to the ‘beauty of ordinary life.’”1.How do modern European culture and Turkish tradition affect the attitudes and actions of the novel’s characters? Are the tensions between both societies reconciled or accommodated?
2.
On page 37, Kemal states that his parents were not religious yet they retained manyreligious customs and traditions. What role does religion play in the novel? In Pico Iyer’slaudatory review in
The
 
 New York Review of Books
, he writes that “As in [Pamuk’smemoir]
 Istanbul 
, though even more so, memory becomes a kind of religion, and there is asense, following Proust, that
les vrais paradis sont les paradis qu'on a perdus
” (true paradise is the paradise one has lost). What do you think Iyer means? Do you agree withMarcel Proust?
 
3.What does Chapter 15, “A Few Unpalatable Anthropological Truths,” reveal aboutsexuality in modern Turkey? How are those “truths” reflected elsewhere in the novel? Howmight your own cultural assumptions about gender and sexuality influence your views onthe behavior of Sibel, Füsun or Kemal?4.At one point, Kemal reflects on his relationship to Füsun: “Did the pleasure of satisfyingevergreen desire give birth to love, or was this sentiment born of, and nurtured by, other things as well?” (p. 54). How might you answer that?5.Consider the following statements by Kemal: “In fact no one recognizes the happiestmoment of their lives as they are living it” (p. 72) and “Now, all these years later, I think that the best way to preserve happiness may be not to recognize it for what it is” (p. 98).Are these two statements contradictory? Do you agree with either?6.On page 157, Kemal tells of “the astonishing powers of consolation that objects held,” and,on page 73, says that “mementos preserve the colors, textures, images, and delights as theywere more faithfully, in fact, than can those who accompanied us through those moments.”How are these notions expressed throughout the novel? Do you share Kemal’s beliefsregarding objects and mementos?
7.
What do you think Kemal means when he states, on page 102, that “the gap betweencompassion and surrender is love’s darkest, deepest region”? What is that “gap”? How arethe concepts of the “gap” and “the cleft between the felt and the imagined” (p. 347)represented in the novel?
 
8.
On page 113, Berrin tells Kemal that a “girl with brains doesn’t judge a man by the way hethinks. She looks at his family, at the way he deports himself.” What does this commentreveal about Berrin and his class? Where else is this idea reflected in the novel?
9.
How are political events within Turkey from the 1970s and 1980s integrated into thenovel? Do the characters address the political turmoil surrounding them? In his portrayal of the characters’ relation to current events, what might Pamuk be saying about them and their society?
10.
On page 176, Pamuk writes, “Sibel, with the felicitous intuition so prevalent in the bourgeoisies of non-Western countries, and most particularly Muslim countries, saw psychoanalysis as a ‘scientific sharing of confidences’ invented for Westernersunaccustomed to the curative traditions of family solidarity and shared secrets.” What doyou think of that quote? How might it explain Sibel or other characters’ behavior?11.Is the change of Füsun’s hair color from blond to black significant? How might these tworepresentations of Füsun symbolize the tendencies and paradoxes of modern Turkey?12.On page 219, Sibel says: “The art of love is in finding a balance of equals . . . If you ask me, being cultured and civilized is not about everyone being free and equal; it’s abouteveryone being refined enough to act as if they were. Then no one has to feel guilty.” Whatdo you think she means? Do you agree? How might Sibel’s definition of “equal” comparewith your own?
13.
On page 302, Kemal realizes “that the longing for art, like the longing for love, is a maladythat blinds us, and makes us forget the things we already know, obscuring reality.” How isPamuk’s writing of 
The Museum of Innocence
both a reflection and realization of that

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