Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish novelist who has won this yearâ€™s Nobel Prize in Literature, is not an overtly political writer. But like every serious artist, Pamuk lives in a world where the freedom to speak the truth has to be reasserted every day against political forces that would rather not hear it.
Pamukâ€™s prize is richly deserved. It was awarded for a body of work, fiction and nonfiction that is driven by the conscience of imagination as well as the conscience of memory. In books like Snow, My Name Is Red and Istanbul, he has made Turkey, past and present, a vital part of the modern readerâ€™s literary atlas. And in turn, it is Turkey that has given Pamuk his political edge.
Islamists tend to think of Pamuk as a literary provocateur, especially for his candid remarks about the Armenian genocide. But we think Pamuk was speaking the truth. For the sake of art and conscience, he has resisted any effort to quiet his literary voice. His prize is a reminder of how often the Nobel has been given to a writer whose work exposes the tension between the state and the artist. We read Pamukâ€™s books as they should be read â€” for the imaginative and linguistic pleasure in them â€” seldom remembering that every artistâ€™s freedom to speak is our freedom, too. This prize helps us remember that.