Moving memoir of terminal cancer up for Wellcome book prize

AP News
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Posted: Mar 14, 2017 11:12 AM

LONDON (AP) — A doctor's posthumously published account of his life with terminal cancer is among the finalists announced Tuesday for the medically themed Wellcome Trust Book Prize.

Paul Kalanithi's "When Breath Becomes Air" was among six books shortlisted for the prize, open to fiction or nonfiction works published in Britain that deal with medicine, health or illness. The American neurosurgeon completed the book before his death in 2015 at age 37.

The finalists also include Siddhartha Mukherjee's genetics study "The Gene," Ed Young's look at microbes, "I Contain Multitudes," and David France's account of the fight against AIDS, "How to Survive a Plague."

Two novels are on the list: British writer Sarah Moss' "The Tidal Zone," which explores the impact of illness on a family, and French author Maylis de Kerangal's "Mend the Living," the story of a heart transplant.

Funded by charity the Wellcome Trust, the 30,000 pound ($36,000) prize aims to bridge the gap between literature and science.

Scottish crime novelist Val McDermid, who chairs the panel of judges, said the prize was designed to find "accessible and illuminating" books that open up scientific topics for a general audience.

"Anyone can read these books and take something rich and extraordinary from them," she said.

McDermid said the six finalists all "teach us something about what it means to be human."

"They deal in different ways and from different angles with questions of medicine and health, but they also have a much wider perspective," she said.

The winner will be announced April 24.