Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures

It’s not often that I read fiction these days, and I almost never read short stories. So, I was a bit skeptical when my Dad lent me Vincent Lam’s Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures. It’s a series of inter-related stories about med students and doctors. They’re set against a broad range of medical backdrops–everything from an anatomy class to a private medivac plane en route to Guatemala.

Lam’s accomplishment is all the more impressive because he’s both a practicing physician and a writer (and just 33 years old). The book, therefore, feels impeccably researched. Lam’s prose is, as you might expect, pretty sparse and clinical, but that appeals to me. There’s an austerity to his characters which seems–I’m no literary critic–out of fashion these days. You can read one of his stories on his site:

“Are you going to do it?” said Sri, not offering the scalpel. He hadn’t moved, and she had leaned across him to open the swath of cloth.

“I was just trying to help, you know, get things going.”

“I already said I’ll do it.”

“As you prefer.”

His depiction of the Chinese-Canadian experience seems at times to be a little stereotypical. Can I even say that, given that he’s Chinese-Canadian and I’m not? I just felt the ‘our daughter must be a chaste automaton or she’ll shame the whole family’ schtick was laid on a bit thick. It felt like a scene from a Hong Kong kung-fu flick.

In any case, Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures won the Giller Prize in 2006. I’ve now read exactly one of the Giller Prize nominees, so I can only assume that Lam deserved it. Regardless, I really enjoyed his book, and will look out for his first novel when it comes out.


  1. i think many chinese-canadian stereotypes are often true (sigh, my family). though i will agree that some are over the top.

  2. I thought the Chinese-Canadian stereotype actually worked in this context. I think that there were some good qualities about this book, but I was remarkably unimpressed with some of the stories. I’m a huge fan of sparse prose, so it wasn’t that. I’m not quite sure what it was about this book….
    My favourites were the first story or two and the story about SARS.

    I’m also a little jealous- 33, a doctor and a Giller winner?
    (I hide in shame)

  3. What you quoted as an example of schtick is quite true – “face” and “shame” have extra meaning to Chinese children (who grow up to still feel it) and it pops up again and again for any major decision you make.

    Hopefully Mr. Lam is not too liberal with the delineation of the Chinese-Canadian experience while I’ve read books where the stereotypes are nauseatingly everywhere you turn.

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