The Toronto physician and Giller-winning writer hasn't let success go to his head

James Adams, The Globe And Mail
December 18, 2006

Sr. Vincent Lam actually published two books this year. But it's the one that earned him the 13th-annual $40,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize, Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures, that's going to be his main claim to fame, at least for the next little while. The other book, The Flu Pandemic and You, which he co-authored with fellow physician Colin Lee, could make the bestseller lists, but it likely would take an actual flu outbreak for that to happen.

So . . . the slight, soft-spoken Toronto emergency-room physician with the impeccable manners and imperturbable demeanour will have to content himself with knowing that, as 2006 comes to an end, hiscollection of linked short stories about four young Canadian doctors has been the country's number-one fiction title, sales-wise, for the last five consecutive weeks. Last week, his publisher, Doubleday Canada, was reporting it has 160,000 copies of Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures in print, with six reprints occurring since the book's $17.95 trade paperback edition was published in late September.

While a Giller Prize win always has been good news for the honoree, largely because it provides an instant, Oprah-style seal of approval for readers overwhelmed by the glut of new books, the mania generated by Lam's triumph has been surprising and significant. A first work of fiction from a young (age 32), previously unknown writer -- the youngest in Giller history, in fact -- it's being adapted into a TV series and has had rights sold all over the globe, including Britain, France and the Netherlands.

Just a few weeks ago perhaps the most significant deal of all occurred: The legendary Weinstein brothers, Bob and Harvey, the former Miramax "twins" who gave the world Shakespeare in Love and Pulp Fiction, triumphed in an auction for the U.S. publishing rights for Bloodletting and an upcoming Lam novel, spending a "significant six-figure sum" for the privilege. Bloodletting is going to be one of the lead titles for the publishing line, Weinstein Books, that the brothers are launching next fall.

None of this appears to have gone to Vincent Lam's head. Which seems to account for a large part of his appeal. The striving son of Trudeau-era Vietnamese immigrants, he's still working long shifts at Toronto East General Hospital, still the doting dad (to a baby boy) and devoted husband (to fellow doctor Margarita Antoniades). About a month after B loodletting's Giller win, he told his famous mentor Margaret Atwood: "It's still the same book." In other words, to his eyes, it retains the strengths and weaknesses it had before all the honours and huzzahs. Atwood thought this a good sign: In the republic of letters, Vincent Lam is determined not to be a one-hit wonder.

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