Philip Roth's account of the lingering guilt left by a New Jersey polio epidemic is competing with a pharmaceutical drama and a dementia-tinged thriller for the Wellcome Trust Book Prize, which honors medical-themed books.
Roth's "Nemesis" is one of four novels among the six shortlisted for the 25,000-pound (approximately $40,000) award Wednesday. Sarah Manguso's autobiographical "The Two Kinds of Decay" and the Pulitzer Prize-winning cancer saga "The Emperor of all Maladies" are also in the running.
The prize, now in its third year, is intended to promote both fiction and non-fiction books at the intersection of medicine and literature.
Science writer and broadcaster Vivienne Parry, who chairs the Wellcome prize's judging panel, reserved particular praise for the four novels in the competition, saying in a statement that they demonstrated "the power of fiction to suck the reader right in to the heart of medical issues."
"Nemesis," a novel set in World War II-era Newark, traces the psychological scars left by a polio outbreak through the life of a playground director whose decision to leave his young charges for the relative safety of a Pennsylvania summer camp delivers decades of heartbreak.
Manguso's "The Two Kinds of Decay" is a spare but lyrical non-fiction account of the autoimmune disease that attacked her as a 21-year-old college student. "The Emperor of All Maladies," by influential oncologist Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, is a non-fiction work that covers 5,000 years of struggle against the scourge of cancer.
The shortlist also includes three more novels: "State of Wonder," about a drugs researcher's snake-ridden trek through the Amazon to uncover the fate of her missing boss; "Turn of Mind," told from the perspective of a murder suspect suffering from Alzheimer's; and "My Dear I Wanted To Tell You," a World War I-era tale about the psychological devastation of battle.
The Wellcome Trust: http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/
Raphael G. Satter can be reached at: http://twitter.com/razhael