A book detailing the problems a Hmong family faced in dealing with the American medical system has won the National Book Critics Circle award for Anne Fadiman.

Fadiman, daughter of legendary Book-of-the-Month Club editor Clifton Fadiman and journalist Annalee Jacoby, graduated from Harvard University in 1975 and is the editor of American Spectator. Her book, "The Spirit Hits You and You Fall Down," was the winner in the nonfiction category.Other winners were: Penelope Fitzgerald in fiction for "The Blue Flower"; James Tobin in biography for "Ernie Pyle's War"; Charles Wright in poetry for "Black Zodiac"; and Mario Vargas-Llosa in criticism for "Making Waves."

Although area nominees finished out of the money, the awards ceremony had a strong Cambridge tone to it - so much so that it could well have been the literary version of this year's Oscar ceremonies, with a half-dozen Massachusetts academics standing in for the "Good Will Hunting" cast.

Two MIT professors were finalists for general nonfiction: Pauline Maier for "American Scripture," about the writing of the Declaration of Independence, and Steven Pinker for "How the Mind Works." Harvard's James L. Kugel's "The Bible as It Was" was also a nonfiction finalist.

Harvard poetry professor Helen Vendler was named in the criticism category for "The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets." Wellesley College professor and Cambridge resident Frank Bidart's "Desire" was a finalist in the poetry category.

And just a bit farther west, Joseph Ellis, the Mount Holyoke College professor whose biography of Thomas Jefferson, "American Sphinx," won the 1997 National Book Award, was up for a biography/autobiography award.

In fiction, the finalists were: Philip Roth, for "American Pastoral"; Don DeLillo, for "Underground"; Charles Frazier, for "Cold Mountain"; and Andrei Makine, for "Dreams of My Russian Summers." Jon Krakauer was a finalist in nonfiction for "Into Thin Air." Besides Ellis, writers nominated in biography/

autobiography were: Doris Lessing, for "Walking in the Shade"; Hermione Lee, for "Virginia Woolf"; and J.M. Coetzee, for "Boyhood: Scenes From Pastoral Life."

Critic Leslie Fiedler was honored as winner of the Ivan San-droff Award for distinguished contributions to American letters.