The Nobel Prize in Literature: Who is Orhan Pamuk?

We now know the list of Nobel Prize win­ners for 2006, and the award cer­e­mo­ny in Stock­holm is not far off (Decem­ber 10th). This year’s prize in lit­er­a­ture went to Orhan Pamuk, who is almost a rock star in his home coun­try, Turkey, but less well known out­side. But that’s clear­ly about to change. If you’re not already famil­iar with Pamuk’s work, we’ve pulled togeth­er some resources for you. Born in Instan­bul in 1952 (check out the Nobel bio here), Pamuk has writ­ten 10 books in Turk­ish — of which 7 have been trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish — and, through com­plex plots and post-mod­ern devices, his books repeat­ed­ly come back to explor­ing a dual­i­ty — the rela­tion­ship between East and West, Islam­ic val­ues and West­ern val­ues, reli­gion and sec­u­lar­ism. As John Updike puts it in a review of Snow, a par­tic­u­lar­ly acclaimed work, what Pamuk deliv­ers is an artis­tic look at “the ten­sion between the sec­u­lar­ism estab­lished by Kemal Atatürk in the nine­teen-twen­ties and the recent rise of polit­i­cal Islam; … the cul­tur­al divide between a West­ern­ized élite and the the­is­tic mass­es.”

Much to his cha­grin, Pamuk has gained pub­lic stature not sim­ply because of his lit­er­ary achieve­ments, but because he has tak­en strong pub­lic stands against the repres­sive ten­den­cies of his gov­ern­ment and Islam­ic rad­i­cal­ism more gen­er­al­ly. And he has paid a per­son­al price. Notably, he was the first writer in the Mus­lim world to denounce the fat­wa against Salman Rushdie. Also, when he declared in a 2005 inter­view that “Thir­ty thou­sand Kurds and a mil­lion Arme­ni­ans were killed in these lands [Turkey between 1915 and 1917] and nobody dares to talk about it,” the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment respond­ed by har­rass­ing him and then bring­ing him up on charges — charges it was even­tu­al­ly forced to drop because of inter­na­tion­al pres­sure. As this inter­view makes clear, Pamuk is not exact­ly what you’d call an eager dis­si­dent. Rather, you get the strong sense that it’s a moral oblig­a­tion for him, the eth­i­cal cost of being famous in a coun­try that has too few peo­ple will­ing to call on the gov­ern­ment to account for its actions.




Final­ly, you can find Pamuk in con­ver­sa­tion with Arthur Dan­to.

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  • i have been bad­ly look­ing for the e‑mail id of Pamuk. i recent­ly vis­it­ed his home­land… he has nev­er betrayed. he just kicked up the dust of the hid­den his­to­ry.

    sub­odh sarkar
    Ben­gali poet

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