"It was the happiest moment of my life, though I didn't know it."
So begins the new novel, his first since winning the Nobel Prize, from the universally acclaimed author of Snow and My Name Is Red.
It is 1975, a perfect spring in Istanbul. Kemal, scion of one of the city's wealthiest families, is about to become engaged to Sibel, daughter of another prominent family, when he encounters Füsun, a beautiful shopgirl and a distant relation. Once the long-lost cousins violate the code of virginity, a rift begins to open between Kemal and the world of the Westernized Istanbul bourgeoisie - a world, as he lovingly describes it, with opulent parties and clubs, society gossip, restaurant rituals, picnics, and mansions on the Bosphorus, infused with the melancholy of decay - until finally he breaks off his engagement to Sibel. But his resolve comes too late.
For eight years Kemal will find excuses to visit another Istanbul, that of the impoverished backstreets where Füsun, her heart now hardened, lives with her parents, and where Kemal discovers the consolations of middle-class life. His obsessive love will also take him to the demimonde of Istanbul film circles, a scene of seedy bars, run-down hotels, and small men with big dreams doomed to failure.
In his feckless pursuit, Kemal becomes a compulsive collector of objects that chronicle his lovelorn progress and his afflicted heart's reactions: anger and impatience, remorse and humiliation, and daydreams that transform Istanbul into a cityscape of signs and specters of his beloved, from whom he can now extract only meaningful glances and stolen kisses in cars, movie houses, and shadowy corners of parks. A last change to realize his dream will come to an awful end before Kemal discovers that all he finally can possess, certainly and eternally, is the museum he has created of his collection, this map of a society's manners and mores, and of one man's broken heart.
©2009 Orhan Pamuk; (P)2009 Random House