Dr. Vincent Lam was born in London, Ontario. His
family emigrated from Vietnam during the Vietnam War and he grew up in Ottawa
speaking Cantonese at home. He did his
medical training in Toronto, where he now lives and works as an emergency physician.
He also does
international air evacuation work and expedition medicine on Arctic and
Now aged 32 but so young looking that he claims he sometimes still gets carded,
he is married and has a son named Theodore.
Lam made his first attempt to write at about the age of 16 having read and reread Ernest Hemingway's Nick Adams Stories, which he describes as "perfect". Due to the pressures of medical school and training, he did not return to writing until he had fully qualified as a doctor. Having accumulated a pile of rejection slips from literary magazines, he took a writing course at the University of Toronto and joined a writing group. He also enrolled in a correspondence program offered by the Humber School for Writers.
Around the same time he met Margaret Atwood and her partner Graham Gibson on board The Akademic Ioffe, a Russian scientific vessel leased to an Australian-based expedition company that takes nature-lovers to out of the way places such as the Arctic. Lam was the ship's doctor. After the voyage, he sent Atwood some of his stories. Atwood was sufficiently impressed with what she read that she passed the manuscript to the publisher of Doubleday Canada. The result is Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures, a series of interconnected short stories that won the 2006 Canadian Giller Prize, making Lam the youngest writer to have won the prize. Shortly after publishing Bloodletting in Canada (Jan 2006), he published a nonfiction book with Colin Lee titled The Flu Pandemic and You (Sep 2006).
Lam's first novel, The Headmaster's Wager (published in the USA in August 2012), which is set in the Chinese community of Saigon, tells of Percival Chen, a character we meet in "A Long Migration", one of the short stories in Bloodletting. Chen flees from the 1945 Japanese invasion of Hong Kong, makes a fortune as a headmaster of an English school in Saigon and loses it as a gambler during the Vietnam War. In 1998, he is dying from cancer in Brisbane, Australia, receiving occasional visits from his children and grandchildren scattered around the world. The story is somewhat based on Lam's own experience caring for his dying grandfather in Brisbane, who had been a respected schoolmaster, gambler and womanizer.
Vincent Lam's website
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A Conversation with Dr. Vincent Lam author of Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures
Which came first: your interest in medicine, or your interest in writing?
My first desire was to write. Since many of the writers whom I admired participated vigorously in the world, I thought that I should do likewise. Naively, I thought to pursue medicine because it seemed like an ideal forum for character study.
Very soon I realized that medicine is far too involved to undertake simply for the purpose of observing humanity. I saw that because it was so demanding, the only sensible way to learn and practice medicine is to be fully committed to it for its own sake. By this point, I had become drawn to it and wished very much to train and work as a doctor.
The training was so consuming that I wasn't able to write for years, not until I had finished my residency and had begun my practice as an emergency physician. By that point, it had also provided me with a few things to write about.
Youve said in that you wanted to write about how people "become a slightly different version of themselves in the process of becoming a doctor." What do you mean by that, and why do you think it happens?
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