Orhan Pamuk’s Nobel Prize

Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish novelist who has won this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature, is not an overtly political writer. But like every serious artist, Mr. 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.

Mr. Pamuk’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 reader’s literary atlas. And in turn, it is Turkey that has given Mr. Pamuk his political edge.

Islamists and Turkish nationalists tend to think of Mr. Pamuk as a literary provocateur, especially for his brief but candid remarks about the Armenian genocide quoted in a Swiss magazine last year. But we think Mr. Pamuk was speaking the truth. For the sake of art and conscience, he has resisted any effort to quiet his literary voice.

Some of those efforts, like the offer to become a Turkish “state artist,” which he declined, were flattering. Others, like the recent prosecution against him, since dropped, for anti-Turkish remarks, were not so flattering.

Mr. Pamuk’s Nobel will be a popular one, except, of course, among people who believe that artists should be allowed to work only under political or religious supervision. His prize is also 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 Mr. Pamuk’s books as they should be read ­ for the imaginative and linguistic pleasure in them ­ seldom remembering that every artist’s freedom to speak is our freedom, too. This prize helps us remember that.