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 Antarctic
ships. Now aged 33 but so young
looking that he claims he
sometimes still gets carded, he
is married with a 3-year-old boy
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).
In 2007 he completed his first novel, Cholon, Near Forgotten, which is set in the Chinese community of Saigon. The story 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. A publication date for Cholon, Near Forgotten has yet to be announced.
*The Giller Prize is named for Doris Giller, a former book editor of at least two of Canada's major daily newspapers who died of cancer in 1993. Giller's husband, Jack Rabinovitch, founded The Giller Prize in 1994 to honor the memory of his wife. The Prize was established with the assistance of several friends - most notably the late Mordecai Richler, author Alice Munro, and academician David Staines. Entry is open to full length novels or short story collections written by Canadian citizens or permanent residents of Canada.
This article was originally published in September 2007, and has been updated for the
September 2008 paperback release.
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