Imre Kertesz, a Hungarian who survived Auschwitz as a teenager, won the Nobel Prize in literature Thursday for writing that "upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history."
The Swedish Academy singled out his 1975 debut novel, Sorstalansag (Fateless), in which he writes about a young man who is arrested and taken to a concentration camp but conforms and survives.
"For him Auschwitz is not an exceptional occurrence," the academy said. "It is the ultimate truth about human degradation in modern experience."
The 72-year-old Kertesz, a Jew born in Budapest, was deported to Auschwitz in 1944, then to Buchenwald, where he was liberated in 1945.
"The refusal to compromise in Kertesz's stance can be perceived clearly in his style, which is reminiscent of a thickset hawthorn hedge, dense and thorny for unsuspecting visitors," the citation said.
Fateless was the first of a trilogy of novels reflecting on the Holocaust. In A kudarc (Fiasco), published in 1988, an aging author writes a novel about Auschwitz that he expects to be rejected. When the book, to his surprise, is published, he feels only emptiness and a loss privacy.
Kaddish a meg nem szueletetett (Kaddish For a Child Not Born), the third work of the trilogy, is a short novel published in 1990. The narrator is a middle-aged Holocaust survivor who has become a writer and literary translator. He agonizes over the effects of his past, lamenting he cannot raise a child in so cruel a world and looking back on a failed marriage and disappointing career.
Kertesz's other works include such nonfiction collections as The Holocaust as Culture, Moments of Silence While the Execution Squad Reloads and The Exiled Language.
The Nobel award is worth about $1 million.
The 18 lifetime members of the 216-year-old Swedish Academy make the annual selection in deep secrecy at one of their weekly meetings and do not even reveal the date of the announcement until two days beforehand.
Nominees are not revealed publicly for 50 years, leaving the literary world to only guess about who was in the running. However, many of the same critically acclaimed authors are believed to be on the short list every year.
Last year's award went to perennial favorite V.S. Naipaul, a British novelist and essayist born in Trinidad to parents of Indian descent.
A week of Nobel Prizes started Monday with the medicine award, followed Tuesday by physics and Wednesday by chemistry and economics.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner will be named Friday in Oslo, Norway, the only Nobel not awarded in Sweden.
Alfred Nobel, the Swedish industrialist and inventor of dynamite, specified in his will endowing the awards that nationality should not be a consideration, but many believe the Swedish Academy tries to spread the honor over different geographical areas.
Nobel otherwise gave only vague guidance about the prize, saying that it should go to those who "shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind" and "who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction."
The prizes always are presented Dec. 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death in 1896.