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November 14, 2011

Cancer biography competes with four novels on Guardian First Book award shortlist

Guardian first book award shortlist. Photograph: Graeme Robertson

Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies up against quartet of novels for £10,000 prize.

By Alison Flood

Siddhartha Mukherjee’s Pulitzer prize-winning biography of cancer is jostling with four debut novels on the shortlist for the Guardian First Book award.

The longlist of 10 for the prize, which goes to the best new author in any genre published in English over the last year, has now been whittled down to five books, with American oncologist Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies the only non-fiction title to make the cut. Chair of judges Lisa Allardice, editor of Guardian Review, called Mukherjee’s first book “incredibly impressive, exhaustively researched, inspiring rather than depressing and a really compelling read”.

Juan Pablo Villalobos’s Down the Rabbit Hole, a blackly comic story told from the perspective of the son of a drug baron, was voted onto the award’s longlist by Guardian readers after the prize opened up its final slot to suggestions from the public for the first time. It has now been chosen by judges as one of the final five contenders for the £10,000 prize, alongside an international and eclectic group of debut novels, from Kashmiri author Mirza Waheed’s shattering story of his homeland The Collaborator to American writer Amy Waldman’s The Submission, which traces the fallout when a Muslim architect is chosen to design a 9/11 memorial in Manhattan. British author Stephen Kelman’s Booker-shortlisted Pigeon English, told in the voice of a schoolboy as he investigates a stabbing on his local high street, completes the line-up.

“All of these novels are engaging with wider issues outside of the writers’ own experiences, which is impressive in a debut,” said Allardice. “The Submission is incredibly ambitious in dealing with the fallout of 9/11 and imagining a world of different cultural relationships in the aftermath. The Collaborator is a clear-sighted look at the Kashmiri wars. Even the two books which seem to be more subjective, Down the Rabbit Hole and Pigeon English, which are told from a child’s eye view – both are engaged with what it means to be underprivileged in society.”

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