A collection of short stories loosely connected to each other by centering on the experiences of four people from their first encounters during medical school and continuing into young middle age.

The first and third stories “Getting into Medical School, Part I” and “Part II,” are about study partners, Fitzgerald and Ming, who have trouble admitting their love for each other until she is accepted to medical school and he is not. Ming teaches Fitzgerald how to prepare successfully by passing along learning tips her physician-cousin provided her in exchange for sex. In the second story, Ming meets fellow students Sri and Chen and drifts away from Fitzgerald. In the third, he wrestles with feelings of rejection and misery as he realizes she has opted for a relationship with the more culturally “appropriate” Chen; however, her study tips pay off in more than one way when he meets Ming’s unsavory cousin at his medical school interview.

Later stories describe clinical encounters with specific cases, one of the most memorable being “Winston,” about Sri’s relationship with a paranoid person; the tale is told alternatively from the doctor’s perspective and the patient’s. in “Afterwards,” Sri must explain to a man’s wife and son, how he died suddenly at a strange hairstylist salon; the news disturbs the family who discover that the supposedly impotent diabetic had been a regular at a sex shop.

Fitzgerald and Chen become emergency physicians. Less settled, Fitzgerald tries several settings, including working for an air ambulance company. His problem with alcohol emerges from deep disaffection and brooding resentment over Ming’s callous rejection years earlier and her subsequent marriage to Chen. The problem begins to threaten his judgement and seriously compromises his health when he falls ill.

In the ironically titled “Contact Tracing” both Fitzgerald and Chen contract SARS (the latter from the former) during the (real) 2003 Toronto epidemic. They are isolated in adjoining rooms separated by glass and phone each other for support and discussion. They reminisce about Sri who has died of cancer and muse on the relevance of do-not-resuscitate orders. The outcome is both humorous and surprising.


Canadian-born of Vietnamese origin, Vincent Lam is a Toronto emergency physician, married with a child. The stories concern four young physicians from different cultural backgrounds: Ming and Chen are of Chinese origin; Sri is from East India; and Fitzgerald is Anglo-Saxon. But they share a Toronto-based training and a Canadian clinical outlook.

Lending a defeatist tone to the collection, many stories end in medical failure and death, despite spectacular heroics. The doctors are often aware that their efforts will be to no avail even as they begin their work. Ironic humour and a few unexpected twists leaven the somewhat grim mix. Sending readers back into the stories for significance, Lam’s endings are often abrupt.

A glossary of medical terms makes the jargon accessible to nonmedical readers.


This collection won the 2006 Giller Prize.


Anchor Canada

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