T.O. doctor wins Giller

Lam's stories of Chinese-Canadian MDs 'subtle in emotion,' says Atwood

Susan Walker and Judy Stoffman, Toronto Star
November 8, 2006

V incent Lam, a Toronto East General doctor who wrote a collection of short stories called Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures, won the Scotiabank Giller Prize last night.

Presenter Margaret Atwood said Lam had helped fight the SARS outbreak in Toronto in 2003 and she said "medicine is a narrative art, just like fiction. Both have their fingers on life and death."

She also called his book "subtle in emotion and occasionally gruesome in humour."

Lam, 32, told the crowd he was "astounded and in many ways overcome" by winning the $40,000 literary prize and he hadn't dared to prepare any remarks in advance "on principle."

"I count myself a very fortunate person, but I have begun to realize that luck is not what it seems. It is either divine blessing or the kindness of people. Many who have been kind to me are in this room."

He continued, "My parents came to this country when multiculturalism was just beginning to be acknowledged. As their son and as the second generation, I am proud to be here."

He added that he was pleased to be on same stage as the evening's host Justin Trudeau, whose prime minister father, Pierre, had done so much for multiculturalism.

The Giller winner also thanked Atwood, whom he had met aboard a ship on an Arctic nature cruise. Lam, the ship's doctor, showed her some of his short stories and she was sufficiently impressed to help him find a publisher.

Lam was born in London, Ont., and raised in Ottawa, with roots in Vietnam's ethnic Chinese community.

Lam's linked stories, published by Doubleday Canada (the only major house in last night's field of five books), open a door into the world of successful, assimilated young Chinese-Canadian professionals, written with the authority of an insider.

The 12 tales in Lam's book follow these characters' path from medical school at the University of Toronto to the city's crowded hospitals where, as physicians, they face a variety of difficult patients.

His book was a break from the tradition of an older generation of Chinese-Canadian writers — Wayson Choy, Judy Fong Bates, Paul Yee, Fred Wah and others — whose fiction has painted a harsher reality of displacement, departure, exclusion and backbreaking menial jobs.

Lam said last night he had wanted to become a writer before pursuing a medical career, but he under-estimated how long it would take to become a doctor, delaying his publishing debut.

This year's Giller race was rated a tossup among five authors with relatively low profiles.

The others included Pascale Quiviger, a Montrealer who lives in Italy and England — she is married to a Labour MP — was shortlisted for The Perfect Circle, about the obsessive love of a Quebec woman for an Italian man, translated by Sheila Fischmann.

Gaetan Soucy was on the list for The Immaculate Conception, translated from French by Lazer Lederhendler.

Carol Windley, who lives in Nanaimo, B.C., was up for her story collection Home Schooling, and Montrealer Rawi Hage for De Niro's Game, set in his native Beirut in the early 1980s during the civil war.

Each finalist received $2,500.

The jury of ex-Giller winner Alice Munro, former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson and novelist Michael Winter did not make their final decision until yesterday and, as usual, not even Jack Rabinovitch knew who they had chosen.

The awards gala at the Four Seasons Hotel was attended by 477 invited guests, most of them friends of philanthropist Rabinovitch.

Among the nibblers on steak and frites were Margaret Trudeau; opera singer Measha Brueggergosman; Liberal leadership hopeful Bob Rae; Moses Znaimer; British Labour MP Alan Simpson, whose wife, Quiviger, was a finalist; journalist Stevie Cameron; and actors Eric Peterson, Janet Wright, Wendy Crewson and Albert Schultz.

Photo credit: Rick Madonik/Toronto Star

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