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Since its inception in 1950, the National Book Award for fiction has gone to the likes of William Faulkner, Saul Bellow, John Cheever, Philip Roth, John Updike, and William Styron. This fall, Richard Powers joined those literary giants by winning the prestigious award for The Echo Maker-an enigmatic novel about a man who develops a rare neurological disorder after a near-fatal automobile accident.
Published in October, the novel follows a 27-year-old protagonist whose recovery from traumatic brain injury is only the beginning of his journey to self-reckoning. When he mistakes his own sister for an imposter upon his emergence from a coma, she contacts a cognitive neurologist famous for his case histories describing the bizarre worlds of brain disorder. The neurologist recognizes a rare case of Capgras syndrome-a disorder in which sufferers act as if they're in a parallel universe where people they know are doubles or imposters. And what ensues is a gripping mystery that explores the extreme vulnerability of the human brain and the fragility of our sense of self.