Turkey's best-known novelist Orhan Pamuk, who faced trial this year for “insulting Turkishness”, won the Nobel prize for literature on Thursday — a decision some critics said was more political than literary.
Pamuk, 54, shot to fame with The White Castle and My Name is Red, novels that explore Turkey’s complex identity through its imperial past.
In a telephone interview with news agency Associated Press, Pamuk, a visiting professor at Columbia University, US, said he was overjoyed by the award, adding that the remarks he made earlier this year referring to the Nobel prize as “nonsense” were a “mistranslation”. He said he accepted the prize not just as "a personal honour, but as an honour bestowed upon the Turkish literature and culture I represent”.
Recently, Pamuk's criticism of modern Turkey had turned him into a symbol of free thought. In a case seen as a test of freedom of speech in Turkey, he was tried for insulting Turkishness after he told a Swiss newspaper last year that a million Armenians had died in Turkey during World War I and 30,000 Kurds had perished in recent decades. Earlier this year, the charges were dismissed on a technicality. But the high-profile trial was an embarrassment to the Turkish government.
Hoarse Engdahl, head of the Swedish Academy, said Pamuk’s political profile had not affected the decision to award him the prize. The citation for the $1.36 million (Rs 6 crore) prize read, “In the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city (Istanbul), (Pamuk) has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures.”
Pamuk’s best-selling works include the political novel Snow. His recent work, Istanbul: Memories of a City, intersperses personal reminiscences with reflections on the city’s past. In a flat in that city, overlooking the bridge over the Bosphorus linking Europe and Asia, he writes, chain-smokes and says, “Istanbul's fate is my fate.”