Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Oncologist Takes Guardian First Book Award

Several days ago, Siddhartha Mukherjee won the 2011 Guardian First Book Award for his biography of cancer, The Emperor of All Maladies.

Guardian First Book Award logo
A simple request from a cancer patient - to know what she had - grew from a journal into a compelling read that combines elements of the memoir, scientific facts, history and the very human stories of several cancer patients the author knew.

Mukherjee is modest about his win. "You never write books to win awards – they are immensely gratifying but unexpected," he said to the Guardian. "In recognising The Emperor of All Maladies, the judges have also recognised the extraordinary courage and resilience of the men and women who struggle with illness, and the men and women who struggle to treat illnesses."

He says more about his win, his book and cancer in an interview after the announcement.

The prize was established in 1965 as the Guardian Fiction Award by The Guardian for British or Commonwealth writers whose works are published in the UK. It's said to be the oldest and best-established of newspaper-sponsored book awards.

In 1999 the Award became the Guardian First Book Award, to be given to the best new literary talent in fiction or non-fiction, across all genres. Today the Award is worth £10,000. Past winners include Zadie Smith for White Teeth (2000); Jonathan Safran Foer for Everything Is Illuminated (2002); and Dinaw Mengestu for Children of the Revolution (2007).

Book reviewers at the Guardian put together a longlist, which is turned loose upon members of reading groups from the Waterstone's bookstore chain. The deliberations that take place at various Waterstone's bookstores will eventually produce a shortlist, from which the winner is picked. Pretty democratic.

'The Emperor of All Maladies' (Fourth Estate)
Among the shortlisted are Stephen Kelman, author of Booker-shortlisted Pigeon English; Mirza Waheed, Kashmiri author of The Collaborator; and Amy Waldman who wrote The Submission, a novel about what happens when a Muslim architect was picked to design a 9/11 memorial in Manhattan.

Lisa Allardice, editor of Guardian Review and chair of the judging panel, regards Mukherjee's "anthropomorphism of a disease" a "remarkable and unusual achievement". She adds that, "He has managed to balance such a vast amount of information with lively narratives, combining complicated science with moving human stories. Far from being intimidating, it's a compelling, accessible book, packed full of facts and anecdotes that you know you will remember and which you immediately want to pass on to someone else."

It is, indeed. I reviewed The Emperor of All Maladies sometime back. Mukherjee's win was well deserved.

And I let someone borrow my copy. I was so happy that somebody wanted to read it, I didn't think twice.

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