Darkness in El Dorado Controversy - Archived Document

Internet Source: Calgary Herald, Entertainment B8 , October 12, 2000
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Big Names Among Finalists For Book Awards

Hillel Italie, The Associated Press

A year after highlighting lesser-known writers, the National Book Awards has gone back to the big names. Susan Sontag, Joyce Carol Oates and 92- year-old Jacques Barzun were among the nominees announced Wednesday.

In a choice likely to be controversial, Patrick Tierney's Darkness in El Dorado received a nomination. Tierney's book alleges that U.S. scientists may have started a deadly measles epidemic among South America's Yanomami in 1968.

Five authors were chosen in each of four categories. This year's list includes nine past NBA nominees and two former winners, Oates and Galway Kinnell.

Science fiction author Ray Bradbury, never nominated in a competitive category, will receive a lifetime achievement medal. Winners will be announced at a ceremony Nov. 15, with Steve Martin returning as host.

In a year that featured acclaimed novels from Saul Bellow, Philip Roth and John Updike, the nominations for Sontag and Oates were surprising. Sontag's In America and Oates' Blonde received mixed reviews. Sontag was also criticized for the uncredited borrowing of passages from other sources.

The New York Times' Michiko Kakutani panned Oates' Blonde, a long psychological novel about Marilyn Monroe, calling it ''the book equivalent of a tacky television mini-series.'' She also thought poorly of In America, based on the 19th century stage performer Helena Modjeska. Kakutani found it ''a banal, flat- footed narrative.''

Other fiction nominees include Francine Prose, Charles Baxter and Alan Lightman for his novel about obsession, The Diagnosis.

Barzun, who spent more than half a century at Columbia University, is the oldest nominee in the NBA's 51-year history and one of the past year's great publishing stories. His From Dawn to Decadence, a finalist in the nonfiction category, is an 800-page survey of western civilization that spent months on best-seller lists.

The awards are sponsored by the National Book Foundation, a non-profit organization. Winners receive $10,000 US, other finalists $1,000.