Orhan Pamuk and the Museum of Innocence

It was Orhan Pamuk’s night at the Pietrasanta LitFest, newly arrived from Istanbul, where he’s been actively supporting the protesters in Taksim Square.  He was originally booked to appear in St Agostino - a large church which is now an arts venue - but so many people came to hear him the queues were round the block.  It was obvious only a fraction of us were going to fit in.  So at the last moment, they swapped the venue and we all made a mad dash for the seats in the Piazza.  Italian queuing on a small scale resembles a rugby scrum and on a large scale - it’s a riot! Almost trampled to death in the crush.  After all the messing about, the event finally got under way at 10.30pm.

Pamuk opened the event by saying that he wanted to make humanitarian comments on the spontaneous uprising in Turkey and he began to tell us the story of his family.  They have lived in Istanbul for a very long time and in 1957 they fought a battle with the authorities to preserve a chestnut tree in the street outside their house.  All their neighbours, family and friends gathered round the tree to protect it from destruction and they succeeded.  The current protest in Taksim square began as a means of protecting the trees in Taksim Park from being cut down for a development. Orhan Pamuk believes passionately that people should have the right to protest peacefully.  Istanbul, he said, has changed more in the last 15 years than in the 45 years before.  There's huge economic growth, a massive population explosion and a demand for more personal freedom generated by the numbers of people and their increased wealth. They expect to be listened to.

Orhan Pamuk on the right with his Italian translator

Orhan Pamuk went on to talk about his latest book The Museum of Innocence and how he bought a house so that he could set a novel in that particular house and then make it a museum of the objects in the book. His main character is obsessed by the woman he is in love with and collects every object she has ever touched.  So the book became a work of art, which you can visit.  It’s an interesting concept.  Afterwards he realised that he wanted to write a catalogue for the museum, which became the story of the objects in it.  It's called 'The Innocence of Objects' and I actually thought it might be more interesting than the novel.

The Nobel prize-winner says that he hasn’t written a book for 5 years and it makes him feel guilty - he feels like a bad person if he isn’t writing.  But he is now writing a new novel set in Istanbul about a young man who comes from Anatolia to become a street seller and it’s about his hopes and dreams. I really enjoyed listening to Orhan Pamuk  - he is a nervy, passionate, very political person who doesn't seem very comfortable in front of an audience, but is determined to put over his message.

More tomorrow  on the Sunday 'passagiata' with a creative writing slam, shoes and dogs and weddings!


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