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Orhan Pamuk Wins 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature

abstract:This Istanbul-born writer is described by Margaret Atwood as having put Turkey "on the map" of world literature. Now that distinction is confirmed since he has won this year's Nobel Prize for Literature. The Nobel is usually awarded to a writer for their body of work (not just one novel) whose focus challenges their country's social or political practices, or brings attention to uncomfortable truths. Learn more about Pamuk in this article. (click title to expand)  


October 17, 2006
Winning the Nobel is sweet reward for the difficulty that Orhan Pamuk (pa-meuk) had to endure when the Turkish government decided to arrest him on charges that "he insulted Turkish identity," with comments he made in an interview with a Swiss magazine about the mass killings of Armenians by the Ottomans in 1915. He was asked to appear before a judge, put on trial, jailed and publicly scorned by some of his own countrymen, and finally released.

With seven novels to his credit, each set in Turkey and encompassing the themes of East versus West, and double identity, the characters portray Turkey's inner conflicts: Ottoman to Democratic rule, Christian and Moslem faiths, ethnic clashes, military intervention in politics. Pamuk challenges the Turkish establishment's defiance of basic freedom of expression without persecution.

The Nobel committee was unusually split on the decision, which delayed its announcement later than the other Nobel prizes in other fields. This was due to the controversy that Pamuk is only 53 years old, quite young for an award honoring one's life work, and also the fact that Turkey is being censured by the EU and detained from entry into the union pending revisal of its controversial freedom of speech laws which were brought to world attention with the arrest of Pamuk.

The Armenian Authors Association chairman David Muradian said the Nobel Academy had sent a political message with its decision. "This is both a literature award and a moral stance," he emphasised.


Istanbul: Memories and the City (2006) There is a past tense in Turkish—it does not exist in English—that allows the writer to distinguish between hearsay and what he has seen with his own eyes. "When we are relating dreams, fairy tales, or past events we could not have witnessed, we use this tense," Pamuk explains. This is the tense in which his book seems to be written, in a voice on the edge of reality, halfway between what he knows has happened and what he believes imaginatively to be true.

The Black Book (2006) Galip, an Istanbul lawyer, is alarmed when his wife, Ruya, and her half-brother, newspaper columnist Jelal Bey, vanish. To ferret out leads, Galip assumes Jelal's identity and pseudonymously takes over his popular columns.—PW  Currently rated #378 on Amazon book sales.

 Snow (2005) A exiled poet named Ka returns to his home town Kars in Turkey after 12 years of work as a journalist in Germany to cover the suicides of the "head scarf girls"—women who have been barred from attending the secular university and whose deaths spark a controversary over the freedom of religious expression.

My Name is Red (2002) Set in sixteenth-century Istanbul, the novel is equal parts mystery, love story, and a philosophical discussion on the nature of art and artistic vision. Two men have been killed: Elegant, a miniaturist engaged (with others) on a book project glorifying the life of the sultan, and Enishte, the man who hired the artists to do the book.—ALA

The White Castle: A Novel (1998) The third novel by the well-known Turkish writer recounts the life of a young Italian Christian taken captive at sea by the Ottoman Turks in the 17th century. Through his intelligence he is treated quite favorably as a slave and spends his days in Istanbul doing research for the Pasha and young Sultan under the sponsorship of a learned man, whom he hauntingly resembles.—LJ

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