Orhan Pamuk wins Nobel prize

Author who has been the subject of controversy in his home country becomes 2006 Nobel laureate

The Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, whose trial on charges of "insulting Turkishness" was dropped earlier this year, has won the 2006 Nobel prize for literature.

The Swedish Academy praised the author's work, which includes the bestselling novels Snow and My Name is Red and a memoir of his home city, Istanbul, saying that "in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city [he] has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures."

Pamuk's work, which has achieved both critical and commercial success in Turkey and beyond, examines questions of identity, and explores the transformations of modern Turkish society.

The announcement by Horace Engdahl, head of the Swedish Academy, in Stockholm this lunchtime drew a brief but intense round of applause.

A Turkish court dropped charges against Pamuk in January, ending a high-profile trial that had cast doubt on the country's commitment to free speech. Pamuk was prosecuted over an interview he gave to a Swiss newspaper in February 2005, in which he said "Thirty thousand Kurds and a million Armenians were killed in these lands, and nobody but me dares to talk about it."

"Pamuk has said that growing up, he experienced a shift from a traditional Ottoman family environment to a more Western-oriented lifestyle," said the Academy in its citation. "He wrote about this in his first published novel, a family chronicle ... which in the spirit of Thomas Mann follows the development of a family over three generations.

"Pamuk's international breakthrough came with his third novel, The White Castle. It is structured as an historical novel set in 17th-century Istanbul, but its content is primarily a story about how our ego builds on stories and fictions of different sorts. Personality is shown to be a variable construction."

Engdahl told journalists that Pamuk's 1990 novel, The Black Book, was his favourite of the author's many works, and praised his "flowing imagination and impressive ingenuity". The prize will lift Pamuk's already strong international reputation, and will no doubt lead to the reissuing of those titles of his that are currently out of print. He will receive prize money of 10m kronor (£730,000), a gold medal and a diploma, and an invitation to a banquet in Stockholm on December 10, the anniversary of the death of the prize's founder, Alfred Nobel.

At 7-1, 54-year-old Pamuk was third favourite with bookmakers Ladbrokes in the run up to the prize, following in the wake of perennial Nobel contender Ali Ahmad Said, the Syrian poet better known as Adonis (3-1) and the American author Joyce Carol Oates (6-1).

The award follows last year's decision by the Academy to honour the playwright Harold Pinter, who used his acceptance speech to launch an attack on US foreign policy. On hearing of this year's decision, Pinter, who is also vice-president of English PEN, said: "I couldn't be more delighted. I first met Pamuk when Arthur Miller and I visited Istanbul in 1985 on a PEN mission looking into the condition of writers there. He's a great writer and this award couldn't be more appropriate. I expected him to win it last year but somebody else got in the way."


Richard Lea and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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