Toronto's Vincent Lam wins Giller Prize

November 8, 2006


oronto-based author Vincent Lam has won the Giller Prize, Canada's richest and most prestigious literary award, for his book of linked short stories, Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures.

The $40,000 Giller Prize was handed out at a gala hosted by Justin Trudeau in Toronto Tuesday evening.

"Luck is not what it seems and most of it falls into the category of divine blessing or people who have been kind to you," he said in an acceptance speech that honoured his publisher and writer Margaret Atwood.

Lam was a ship's doctor when he met Atwood on an Arctic cruise.

Atwood agreed to read his work and became his mentor and advocate. She introduced his book at the Giller ceremony.

"It has something — and that something is authenticity and drama and a feel of gritty real life," she said.

Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures is about medical students and young doctors, a world Lam was immersed in when he started writing the book, a year after finishing his residency.

Lam typically spends his mornings writing and his afternoons and evenings working in the emergency department at a Toronto hospital, he told CBC Radio in an interview earlier Tuesday.

"I'm exhausted as a writer by the time I finish my writing day, but often that just makes me very pleased to go to the hospital because, after a frustrating day of facing the empty page, it's an immense relief, in fact, to go to the hospital and see real people with real problems with chest pain and cuts and fevers," he said.

The son of Chinese immigrants from Vietnam, Lam said he wanted to be a writer before he decided on becoming a doctor.

"I think I was about 14 or 15 years old and I sat down to write at that point and suddenly had the horrible realization that I had nothing whatsoever to write about ... so I thought I should probably go out into the world and learn something about it before trying to write about it," he said.

Lam chose medicine, naively thinking it would give him flexibility and time to write.

Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures is his first book of fiction. His debut novel is due out in 2007.

This year's Giller nomination list was remarkable for steering clear of Canada's best-known writers and choosing relative unknowns published through small publishing houses.

The other nominees were:

  • Gaétan Soucy of Montreal for The Immaculate Conception, a dark tale of arson and chance set in the city's east end in the 1920s.
  • Pascale Quiviger, a Montrealer now living in Italy, who won a Governor General's Award for French fiction for her love story, The Perfect Circle.
  • Beirut-born Rawi Hage of Montreal for De Niro's Game, which follows two young men during the war in Lebanon.
  • Carol Windley of Nanaimo, B.C., for Home Schooling, a short story collection set on Vancouver Island and in the Pacific Northwest.

Each of the nominees receives $2,500 in prize money.

Both The Immaculate Conception and The Perfect Circle were translations from French.

The jury members for this year's Giller Prize were former governor general Adrienne Clarkson, short story writer Alice Munro and novelist Michael Winter.

The Giller prize was created in 1994 by businessman Jack Rabinovitch in honour of his late wife, literary journalist Doris Giller.

Last year, Scotiabank became a sponsor and boosted total prize money from $40,000 to $50,000.