New York Novelist Orhan Pamuk, an international symbol of literary and social conscience whose poetic, melancholy journeys into the soul of his native Turkey have brought him the many blessings and burdens of public life, won the Nobel literature prize Thursday.
Pamuk, a fellow at Columbia University, said he was overjoyed by the award and accepted it not just as "a personal honor, but as an honor bestowed upon the Turkish literature and culture I represent."
The author did have one complaint: The Swedish Academy announced the prize at 7 a.m. EDT.
"They called and woke me up, so I was a bit sleepy," said the 54-year-old Pamuk, adding that he had no immediate plans to celebrate but looked forward to being with friends back in Turkey.
The selection of Pamuk, whose recent trial for "insulting Turkishness" made headlines worldwide, continues a trend among Nobel judges of picking writers in conflict with their own governments. British playwright Harold Pinter, a blunt opponent of his country's involvement in the Iraq war, won last year. Elfriede Jelinek, a longtime critic of Austria's conservative politicians and social class, was the 2004 winner.
Pamuk, whose novels include "Snow" and "My Name Is Red," was charged last year for telling a Swiss newspaper in February 2005 that Turkey was unwilling to deal with two of the most painful episodes in recent Turkish history: the massacre of Armenians during World War I, which Turkey insists was not a planned genocide, and recent guerrilla fighting in Turkey's overwhelmingly Kurdish southeast.
"Thirty-thousand Kurds and 1 million Armenians were killed in these lands, and nobody but me dares to talk about it," he said in the interview.
The controversy came at a particularly sensitive time for the overwhelmingly Muslim country. Turkey recently had started membership talks with the European Union, which harshly criticized the trial. The charges against Pamuk were dropped in January.
"I think that Orhan Pamuk was a splendid choice for the Nobel Prize, not only for the evident literary merit of his work, but because of his courageous defiance of political pieties in Turkey," said historian Ron Chernow, president of the PEN American Center, the U.S. chapter of the international writers-human rights organization.
Virtually the only Turkish author widely known to U.S. readers, Pamuk has become a celebrated and resented reminder of his country's darkest past, like such Nobel laureates as Germany's Guenter Grass and Mississippi native William Faulkner, whose tormented narratives of the American South became models for Pamuk.
"I have so much respect for Faulkner," Pamuk said Thursday. "What Faulkner did was to combine complicated history with modernist literature, experimental literature, with an art that is authentic and new and daring. I have also tried to do that."
"Snow," a deeply sad and dreamlike novel published in the United States in 2004, is among the most political of Pamuk's works. It tells of the despair that young women in a small Turkish town feel when the state decrees they can't wear their Islamic headscarves at their university, a divisive issue for many in Turkey, where most women cover their hair in the Muslim tradition.
Many of the educated, liberal Turkish women who read "Snow," Pamuk said in a 2004 interview with the AP, "felt I should not pay so much understanding to the humiliation of a woman who is not allowed to wear a head scarf."
He has spoken up for others in peril. Pamuk was the first Muslim writer to defend Salman Rushdie when Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini condemned Rushdie to death because of "The Satanic Verses," a satire of the Prophet Mohammed published in 1989. Pamuk also has been supportive of Kurdish rights.
Pamuk's first novel, "Darkness and Light," came out in 1979 and was a multigenerational tale about a wealthy Turkish family in Istanbul. His reputation grew with "The White Castle" and "The Black Book," and his following widened even as his work turned more surreal and self-conscious. "My Name Is Red," a story of forbidden art and palace politics, opens with a ghoulish line: "I am nothing but a corpse now, a body at the bottom of the well."
Within hours of the Nobel announcement, five of Pamuk's books were among the top 100 sellers on Amazon.com.